Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
April 12, 2004
Give the common folk a voice
The gross imbalance in Alberta's political system was again made apparent earlier this month when Elections Alberta released its annual figures for political contributions in 2003. It showed that the governing Progressive Conservatives, who have been in power for almost 33 years and have an overwhelming majority in the legislature, received almost $2.5 million in donations last year. The Liberals collected nearly $350,000 while the New Democrats pulled in $418,000.
The imbalance is even more evident when one realizes that the Tories have $4.17 million in their war chest while the Liberals are $900,000 in debt. The Liberals, the official opposition, are ill equipped to fight an election while the Tories' wallet is bursting.
The Conservative Party has done what it should do - raise enough money (and more) to fight an election. One cannot blame them for being successful.
But one has to question whether this overwhelming dominance of one party is good for the province. Neither opposition party has much hope of forming a government when the financial balance is weighted so heavily in one direction. And with little prospect of forming a government, the opposition parties will be hard pressed to attract credible candidates to bolster their chances of forming even an effective opposition. In such a lopsided situation, is it any wonder that many Albertans are apathetic towards politics?
While some corporations contribute to both the Liberals and the Conservatives (the New Democrats do not accept corporate contributions), most only give to the party in power. They know that a major contribution to the governing party will at least get the powers-that-be to listen when they have something to say.
Too many corporations do not see political contributions as a way of ensuring good government; they want to improve their chances of getting something for themselves. This narrow self-interest is distorting the province's politics for the long-term good of no one.
Alberta could presumably do what the federal government has done: Ban contributions by corporations and unions and give each party a sizeable grant based on the number of votes it received in the last election. This would at least begin to address the huge imbalance in funding.
But it would also mean taxpayers foot the bill for election campaigns that are often extravagant and wasteful.
Another solution would be to simply ban corporate and union contributions and have no money flow from the government to the political parties. While this likely would not address the funding imbalance to the same extent, it would radically change the nature of election campaigns. Instead of campaigns based on TV advertising and lawn signs, one would be more likely to get low-cost campaigns where the words and ideas of the candidates and parties carry more weight.
And if there were to be a system of proportional representation, the province would be even more likely to get meaningful and lively debate. Proportional representation would mean that a party that gets 55 per cent of the vote in an election would get roughly 55 per cent of the seats in the legislature, not 90 per cent, as is currently the case.
Every ballot cast would end up helping to shape the legislature. The general public might even begin to take political issues more seriously.
Governing parties, however, are loathe to implement such ideas. It would mean abandoning their built-in advantage to continuing their dynasties.
Still, someone should be taking care of the long-term good of the political system. If no one takes action, we can only look forward to the stagnation and decay of democracy.
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