There are a lot of people in Alberta and elsewhere wondering what Rachel Notley, the province's incoming NDP premier, will do first. Raise corporate taxes? Order a review of the oil-industry royalty regime? Restore funding to health care and education that was cut by her predecessor?
There are plenty of choices. Most are controversial. But if she wants to hit the ground running and do the one thing that voters on both the left and right can agree on, she doesn't have to look any further than her election promise to reform the province's political donation rules.
In Alberta, corporations, unions and individuals can donate up to $30,000 to each party in an election year, and $15,000 in non-election years. They can also give $2,000 to a candidate and up to a total of $10,000 to different candidates in one party. Not to mention another $2,000 to any one constituency association, to a maximum of $5,000 per party.
That's a lot of money. Contrast that to federal government rules. Unions and corporations aren't allowed to make political donations. Only individuals can. And the maximum donation to each party, candidate and constituency association is $1,500.
The other big difference is that Ottawa sets spending limits during election campaigns. In Alberta, you can spend as much as you want to get elected. It's the only province to allow this.
Ottawa's rules were designed to keep big money out of elected politics. Alberta's rules are designed to keep it in. Ms. Notley has called the system "ridiculous." It is. She and the Leader of the Opposition, Brian Jean of the Wildrose Party, both want to end corporate and union contributions. They haven't said whether they would set limits on individual donations, or whether they would set spending maximums during election campaigns.
But between the two of them, they can make Alberta a more democratic place by ensuring money from large and powerful interests has less of an influence on elected officials.
And while we're at it, just getting the Alberta legislature to attend to any business at all would also improve the province's democracy. The legislature sat for just 42 days last year. That is a vestige of decades of one-party rule, where parliament became a rubber stamp for the executive. Let's get the money out of Alberta politics and the politicians into their seats.