Loop-hole in election law?

Lethbridge Herald April 11, 2012.

A landowners group may have found a loophole in provincial third-party election laws by having property owners upset with land-use legislation become their own advertisers. For a couple of weeks the distinctive lime green signs have been sprouting along the Trans Canada and Crowsnest Pass highways stating, “Property Rights Yes! PC Bills 24-36-50 NO!” On the tag line is printed “Vote Responsibly” followed by a red circle with a line across PC. The signs also contain the website of the Alberta Landowners Council, an organization against recent land-use legislation and that counts St. Albert lawyer and property rights advocate Keith Wilson among its members.

President of the group, Colleen Boddez, said the signs don’t break Alberta’s third-party advertising because not only does the group not receive money for them, they don’t even pay for them.

Under the legislation passed by the Stelmach government in 2009, third parties — those outside of registered political entities — must follow certain guidelines. Among them are that any organization spending more than $1,000 must submit financial statements showing where the money is coming from and the group must register with Elections Alberta.

Boddez explains that since those wishing to purchase the signs do so directly from the printing company without the funds going to the Landowners Council, those regulations don’t apply to the group.

“They haven’t got anything to stop us on because we haven’t incurred any expenses,” said Boddez. “We can’t say those signs are ours, they were put up by individual Albertans who want the (land-use) bills repelled.”

She called the election laws another sign of “PC bullying, manipulation and control” which are part in parcel of the land-use legislation. Elections Alberta’s recent warning letter to the Alberta Medical Association to cease its advertising promoting heath care issues during the election highlights the problems with the advertising law, said Boddez.

“I don’t know why they put up this elections act. It’s a ridiculous piece of legislation and it’s meant to muzzle ordinary Albertans,” she said. A representative from Elections Alberta said they are aware of the property rights signs but couldn’t comment if they comply with the provincial election laws, though, they are looking into the matter.

The maximum penalty for breaching the third party election advertising laws is $100,000.