The leader of the Alberta Party argues that campaign finance rules that have resulted in him receiving a five-year ban from running for public office over a missed deadline are “draconian” and part of a wider effort to diminish the power of opposition parties.
Stephen Mandel, a former Edmonton mayor who briefly served as a Progressive Conservative health minister, was among 11 candidates who received five- or eight-year bans last week after Elections Alberta determined they either missed deadlines to file financial reports related to their constituency nominations or didn’t file them at all.
Seven of those candidates were from the Alberta Party, which has three MLAs in the legislature and has cast itself as a centrist alternative in a province currently dominated by the New Democrats and the United Conservative Party.
Mr. Mandel has filed a legal challenge that is scheduled to be heard on Feb. 22, with his lawyers claiming Elections Alberta miscalculated the deadlines and set them two months earlier than set out in the law. As well, they argue in court documents that a ban on running for public office is disproportionate.
“The legislation is so draconian,” Mr. Mandel said in an interview.
“Laws are meant to be reasonable, and this is not reasonable,” he added. “The ramifications of this are ludicrous.”
Mr. Mandel wouldn’t say whether he would step down as leader if the ban is upheld, insisting that there’s no need to speculate because he will win in court.
Alberta’s election laws have for years imposed bans for parties, candidates and constituency associations that fail to submit their financial documents on time. The NDP government extended those rules to riding-level nominations as part of a series of campaign-finance changes that also banned corporate and union donations and set limits on advertising from third-party groups.
The NDP government has had little sympathy for Mr. Mandel’s predicament, insisting that the rules are clear and apply to all candidates. The minister responsible for democratic renewal, Christina Gray, did not make herself available for an interview.
UCP Leader Jason Kenney has offered Mr. Mandel his support while agreeing that a five-year ban is overly harsh.
Mr. Mandel said the government went too far as it attempted to root out money in politics.
“They've made a mess of the entire process and I think they're trying to squash opposition parties,” he said.
“Democracy is about making sure that all of us, no matter how small the parties are, have the opportunity to bring forward our ideas and our vision as elected people. So, by making every effort to diminish our capacity, what they’re doing is hurting democracy.”
Candidates have four months after the nomination process to file their donation and spending records. The legal challenge hinges on when that four-month period begins.
Elections Alberta sent Mr. Mandel a letter last summer that included a deadline of Sept. 12, 2018. The date was in bold.
Mr. Mandel, who was acclaimed, filed a report that listed no donations or spending on Sept. 27 – 15 days after the deadline referenced by Elections Alberta.
But in court documents, his lawyers argue Elections Alberta should have started the four-month window much later, making the real deadline either Nov. 12 or Nov. 23.
At the same time, Mr. Mandel also said his chief financial officer was seriously ill last fall, which he says contributed to the apparent missed deadline.
The Alberta Party has only ever elected one member to the legislature: Greg Clark, who was elected in 2015 while serving as leader. Its two other sitting MLAs crossed the floor from other parties.