Alberta Premier Alison Redford's government has shot down a motion to close what the opposition calls the "Katz loophole," ensuring major donors can still write cheques to provincial political parties for sums greater than the donation limit.
The opposition Wildrose Party had proposed amendments to election-law changes filed as Bill 7. Wildrose wanted it to be illegal for donors to write one lucrative cheque and then split the donation into amounts under the $30,000 limit, dividing it among several entities for receipt purposes.
But the Redford government voted down the amendments before pushing through Bill 7 on Wednesday. House Leader Dave Hancock laid out a spirited defence of the right for a donor to write a large cheque.
"At the end of the day, it's about openness – who made the contribution and not who wrote the cheque," Mr. Hancock told the House, after earlier arguing: "People organize their lives in various different ways; it's not up to us to try and make their lives difficult."
The Wildrose amendment would have required donations above $15,000 to be split into separate cheques from actual donors. "All we're saying is those folks should have to show an individual cheque. Think about how easy that is," Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson replied. The government voted that down late on Tuesday night.
The issue was raised after The Globe and Mail reported that, according to sources, billionaire and Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz wrote Ms. Redford's Progressive Conservatives a $430,000 cheque during the spring election campaign, with the sum then divided among several entities for receipt purposes. Ms. Redford has refused to look into the matter, denying any knowledge of a donation that made up more than a quarter of her party's campaign fundraising total. She declined to speak to reporters on Wednesday.
Mr. Hancock dismissed questions about the Katz cheque, insisting he has "absolutely no knowledge of that particular donation," but added that it is nonetheless "making a mountain out of a molehill, quite frankly."
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said the rules, as they stand, allow people to "get technically under the limit" by writing big cheques and then allocating them. Opposition members say there's no point in having a $30,000 limit – already far higher than in many jurisdictions – if it can be easily circumvented. "We think that that was a loophole that needed to be closed. It's disappointing that the government refused to do that," Ms. Smith said.
Alberta's Chief Electoral Officer, Brian Fjeldheim, is investigating the Katz donation, but it is unclear what he will find. By Mr. Hancock's reasoning, if the PCs handed over a copy of a $430,000 cheque, Mr. Fjeldheim would then have to prove that all the money belonged to the donor, and was not simply in the donor's account.
Mr. Fjeldheim's office has contacted the PCs requesting information and the party has 30 days to respond, with a deadline of later this month, party president Kelley Charlebois said. The Chief Electoral Officer has the power to request bank records and e-mails from the PCs, but it is unclear what personal information a donor would have to provide.
Mr. Charlebois would not say what documents were requested, only that the party would provide "as much detail as we can" by the deadline.
Opposition members have questioned Mr. Fjeldheim's impartiality, noting he has not recommended a single illegal donation for prosecution despite finding nearly four dozen in the past year.
Bill 7 passed its third and final reading on Wednesday afternoon. The fall legislative session is expected to adjourn on Thursday, returning in 2013.
With a report from David Ebner