EDMONTON – Alberta’s New Democrats launched the post-Tory period of provincial politics Monday with a throne speech announcing bills to ban corporate and union political donations and to increase taxes on large corporations and the wealthy.
The bills follow through on promises made in last month’s election campaign which ended with Rachel Notley and the NDP toppling a nearly 44-year-long Progressive Conservative dynasty.
“Our political system has been far, far too dependent on funds from a narrow range of donors with deep pockets, and far too removed from the interests of ordinary people,” Notley told reporters before the throne speech. “We will tilt the playing field back in Albertans’ favour, so that their interests come first.”
The speech, read in the chamber by new Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell, outlined the government’s goals and intentions for a legislature sitting expected to last just a few weeks.
The flagship bill is titled An Act to Renew Democracy in Alberta and proposes to ban corporate and union donations to political parties.
Corporate donations, including hefty cheques from oil companies and other businesses, have historically made up a substantial portion of fundraising for the Progressive Conservatives. The New Democrats have relied on union donations to fill their coffers.
In 2014, the NDP brought in almost $777,000 in donations, about 11 per cent of which came from unions.
PC interim leader Ric McIver said banning corporate donations will “tilt the political scale” toward the NDP, while forcing businesses to find less-transparent avenues to get their contributions to the parties.
“If corporations want to give money, they’ll have to find a legal way to encourage other people to do it,” said McIver, one of nine Tories still holding a seat in the legislature.
The second bill, An Act to Restore Fairness to Public Revenue, proposes a “modest” increase to corporate income taxes, said Notley.
She has previously promised to raise the rate to 12 per cent from 10 per cent. The small-business rate would remain at its current level of three per cent.
The bill includes a plan to scrap Alberta’s 10 per cent flat income tax and introduce higher rates on the top 10 per cent of tax filers.
“We are returning to a more typical Canadian tax system,” said Notley, who noted that the province would still have the lowest overall tax burden.
Brian Jean, leader of the official Opposition Wildrose party, said he will support the ban on political donations, but not the tax hikes.
“No government should ever consider raising taxes until it has cut waste and introduced efficiencies on how government operates,” said Jean.
The NDP plan to introduce an interim supply bill to keep the money flowing while the caucus crafts a full budget to be introduced in the fall.
Notley also announced the creation of a 17-member, all-party committee to improve accountability and fairness in areas such as whistleblower protection, electioneering and conflicts of interest.
That report is to be done within a year.
As well, Notley said Liberal Leader David Swann and NDP backbencher Danielle Larivee will co-chair a review to improve mental-health services. Recommendations are to be in place by year’s end.