Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel, speaks during a press conference in Edmonton on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
There’s one sure way to lose an election — get yourself banned from running in the election.That’s the strange fate of the Alberta Party, after its leader Stephen Mandel and five other candidates were disqualified for failing to file nomination financial reports on time.Nothing like this has happened to any party leader before. That’s because the rules under which Mandel now finds himself a non-candidate were only passed in 2016.That year, the NDP extended standards and penalties for general elections to party nominations and leadership contests.Obviously, the Alberta Party was dimly attuned to a change that didn’t seem so important until it jumped up and bit the leader.This is embarrassing and damaging for a small party trying to carve a niche for itself in the conservative centre.But the draconian punishment is absurdly out of line with a minor bureaucratic lapse.Mandel was acclaimed last year as the Alberta Party candidate in Edmonton-McClung riding. Because there were no other candidates, he didn’t campaign.Now get this: his financial statement shows that he received no donations and spent no money.The official Elections Alberta form has 30 reporting lines. Every single entry is a zero.There is very little chance of funny business in a campaign that does not solicit money, spend money, promise money, or indeed have money.For filing this document a bit late, the guy who was a three-term Edmonton mayor is banned from Alberta politics for five years —and fined $500.The money-free document was received by the Chief Electoral Officer last Sept. 27. Yet Mandel only learned Jan. 30 that he’s banned. The election could be called any day now.Given the facts, it’s easy to suspect sabotage.But that’s not it. This is regulation run wild. Elections Alberta, always scrupulous, is merely applying the rules it was given by the NDP.
Greg Clark, Alberta Party MLA for Calgary-Elbow.
Larry Wong /
“I warned them when we were discussing this in committee,” says Greg Clark, Alberta Party MLA for Calgary-Elbow, who has not been banned.“I said there would be unintended consequences to applying these rules to all party activity. And now this.”“The NDP has been obsessed with this kind of legislation. I counted them up one day — they’ve passed seven bills on elections and financing.”Mandel, and presumably some of the other Alberta Party candidates, will apply to Court of Queen’s Bench for reversals.He argues that the timing of notices was confusing and he did in fact comply with the rules.I’d be shocked if any judge upheld a five-year ban on the leader of a legitimate party because of this lapse.The penalties may even be a violation of Mandel’s constitutional democratic rights. Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees both the right to vote and to run for office.
UCP Leader Jason Kenney calls the penalties “disproportionate.”
Jeff McIntosh /
The Canadian Press
UCP Leader Jason Kenney stood up for Mandel, saying he supports his court application.Calling the penalties “disproportionate,” Kenney said the ban is “part of the NDP’s overreach in seeking to micromanage internal party nominations through legislation.”Conservatives of all stripes — Progressive Conservative, Wildrose, Alberta Party and now UCP — have never liked government meddling in party affairs, which they consider private business. They say financial accountability should only apply to actual elections and byelections.Clark adds: “I do agree with financial reporting for party leadership campaigns.” But he adds he finds it ridiculous to require financials from every candidate for every party nomination, winners and losers alike.Christina Gray, the NDP minister behind the spate of bills, says the goal was to get “big money” out of politics.In Mandel’s case, she has succeeded brilliantly in keeping zero money out of politics.Gray offers little sympathy to anyone who misses the deadlines. The rules are clear, she argues.My own view is there should be some oversight of financing for party nominations. Genuine wrongdoing and financial trickery should be punished.But for heaven’s sake, there’s a place for common sense too.Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Heralddbraid@postmedia.comTwitter: Don BraidFacebook: Don Braid Politics