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Monday, May 31, 2010

Do Donations Show That Power Begets Power in Alberta Politics?

The front page story in today's Edmonton Journal by Archie McLean on Lobbyist's contributions to political parties is the kind of journalism a fear we would lose with the demise of the traditional media.  The story is just the kind of thing the Lobbyist Registry was supposed to bring forward.  It is the kind of  transparency and accountability such legislation intends to help regular citizens know and better understand how the machinery of politics, and yes even democracy, actually works in Alberta.

I have no issues with the story and I am not surprised by the sources or levels of the donations.  I don't think that level of contribution is enough to buy any politician.  But is does buy access.  For example, big industry gets their phone calls returned from government, and even opposition parties.  I expect Brian Mason of the NDP is quick to respond to big unions when they phone.  Again I have no issues with that. 

The startling fact is the concentration of donations to the current government and the picayune level of support for the Liberals and NDP.  The Wildrose is pretty good at fundraising but will be secretive about the sources and amounts when it suits their political purposes...like the lack of disclosure of who paid for Danielle Smith's leadership campaign.  Too bad we can't force that kind of disclosure under the Lobbyist Act.  There are no rules running those gong shows that that private process inside political parties actually selects the small group of folks who could be Premier.

What is of concern is what is said and by whom for what ends when contributors come calling on politicians?  Is it all done behind closed doors - or on the golf course?  If there confidentiality for good reasons or secrecy pure political reasons?  When that happens we get a sick system and at best casual corruption.  I don't think any of that is actually happening in Alberta so don't misunderstand.  It is like the MPs expenses being audited by the Auditor General..  Of course they should be, just as we, as citizens,  have a right to know who is trying to influence government.  Jaffer has proven the need for that kind of sanitizing in spades.

The Lobbyist Act in Alberta is a late addition to an effort about applying more integrity to the Alberta political culture.  It is a tepid toe in the water of more openness, accountability and transparency in who influences government and politics and how they do it.  It is at least a start and when the review of the legislation comes up in a few years I trust the system will become even more honest and open about how democracy is done and ought to be done in our Alberta.

For the record, I am a registered lobbyist and make political donations but only modestly.  I have found access to politicians in Alberta not to be a problem and I don't think the money contributed makes any difference. In fact since I quit the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta last year, my access to the political and administrative levels of the provincial government has never been better.   Go figure.