New bill to lift veil on election offences

By Sarah O’Donnell, Edmonton Journal October 23, 2012 7:28 AM

EDMONTON – Alberta’s chief electoral officer will be able to name names of groups that violate Alberta’s political spending laws under an amendment to election rules that will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session, Government House Leader Dave Hancock said Monday.

“It’s not retroactive legislation, but it will give the chief electoral officer what some of us thought he already had,” Hancock said, speaking of the Election Accountability Amendment Act, one of 10 bills the government announced Monday that it plans to introduce or vote on in the upcoming six-week session.

Previous amendments to Alberta’s election law allowed the chief electoral officer to levy penalties and make decisions about whether political donations complied with provincial laws. But when that change occurred, Hancock said, it wasn’t made clear that the chief electoral officer could also make those decisions public.

“This act will make that clear,” Hancock said.

As of July, chief election officer Brian Fjeldheim’s office said it had looked into 81 cases of allegedly inappropriate political contributions. Of those, 37 investigations resulted in fines and another 14 in warnings. He said the legislation prevented him from revealing the details of those investigations, including who had been fined.

In addition to the promise of more transparent election laws, Hancock said a mandatory new home warranty and a requirement for power transmission lines to be approved by the provincial utilities commission will be among the key pieces of legislation to be introduced when MLAs return Tuesday to the legislature.

The government also will introduce a new Education Act for a third time, which Hancock said will clarify wording related to the role of human rights, an issue that prompted protests last spring from some parents who home-school their children and worried the new act would force them to teach values they believe to be immoral.

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A look ahead at the legislation

Members of the Redford government said Monday they intend to introduce 10 pieces of legislation in the fall session. Here’s a quick look at the bills, based on the provincial government’s descriptions:

Bill 1: The Workers’ Compensation Amendment Act, introduced in the spring, gives firefighters coverage for work-related post-traumatic stress disorder.

Bill 2: The Responsible Energy Development Act creates a single provincial regulator for energy project that relate to removing oil, gas, oilsands and coal from the ground.

Bill 3: The Education Act, being introduced for a third time, is meant to modernize the dated School Act.

Bill 4: The Public Interest Disclosure Act is being touted by the government as whistleblower protection for people in the public sector so they can disclose problems without reprisal.

Bill 5: The New Home Buyer Protection Act creates a mandatory new home warranty for all new homes built in Alberta.

Bill 6: Amendments to the Protection & Compliance Statutes promise new penalties for health, safety and trade violations.

Bill 7: The Election Accountability Amendment Act aims to “increase democracy and enhance accountability in the electoral process,” according to a government news release. PC House Leader Dave Hancock said it will include changes clarifying that Alberta’s chief electoral officer can publicly report on decisions the office makes or penalties it levies for violations.

Bill 8: The Electric Utilities Amendment act is meant to ensure all future power transmission line project are reviewed and approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission, not provincial cabinet.

Bill 9: The Alberta Corporate Tax Amendment Act introduces a handful of changes, including allowing sharing taxpayer information in certain circumstances, such as upon request by the Auditor General.

Bill 10: The Employee Pensions Act is being promoted as an update to make Alberta’s private sector pension legislation in tune with changing times.

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