Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the group behind a billboard and social media campaign targeting him and four other council members before the Oct. 16 municipal election should not operate under a cloak of anonymity.
Save Calgary recently put up an electronic billboard downtown with its name and the slogan, “Vote for Change on October 16.”
The group’s website lists Nenshi along with councillors Evan Woolley, Gian-Carlo Carra, Druh Farrell and Diane Colley-Urquhart as “failing candidates.”
However, the organization has been reticent about its membership.
Spokesperson Hadyn Place told CBC News on Monday that the group is under no legal obligation to reveal who’s involved or where it gets funding.
There are laws governing how third-party groups can campaign on behalf of, or against, candidates at the provincial and federal levels.
But under Alberta’s current laws, third-party groups like this one aren’t subject to donation limits or required to disclose their donors on a municipal level.
Calgary’s mayor says that should change.
“You want to get rid of somebody? Donate money to their opponents. You like somebody? Donate money to them, volunteer for them. But don’t operate anonymously through a third-party organization, because you won’t get any actual respect for doing that,” he said.
“So, Calgarians very clearly rejected that kind of campaigning in ’13 and they’ll reject it again in ’17.”
Individual candidates running for city council, by contrast, must register their intended candidacy in order to legally start fundraising.
They can then accept a maximum of $5,000 per donor and must publish an accounting of their campaign expenditures and a list of their donors after the election.
Calling for change
On its website, Save Calgary describes itself as concerned citizens who want change at city hall.
“We believe that City Council prefers telling citizens how we should live instead of being responsive to Calgarians‘ wishes and desires,” the website says.
“We have set up this website critiquing wherever Council is being reckless with taxpayers’ money, putting pet projects ahead of everyday families, and for the relentless increases to business and property taxes.”
The section devoted to Nenshi includes links to articles from various sources, including The Rebel — Ezra Levant’s conservative news site.
One story criticizes the mayor for an exclusive fundraiser he later cancelled amid criticism that it smacked of cash-for-access. Another from 2016 had the headline, “Must Watch: This question made Mayor Nenshi throw a hissy fit.”
The savecalgary.com domain is registered through “Domains by Proxy,” an online service that helps owners of websites mask their identities.
Nenshi says he has advocated for third party disclosure since before entering politics.
“That’s why I will release the names of all of my donors … on nomination day, and again and again prior to the election, so that before the election, people will know the names of everyone who donated money to me,” he said.
“And I encourage all other city council candidates to do the same thing.”
Alberta to review municipal campaign finance rules
The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association — which represents cities, towns, villages and other municipalities that together serve more than than 85 per cent of Alberta’s population — called on the provincial government last year to implement similar rules in time for the provincewide municipal elections in October.
A spokesperson for Alberta Municipal Affairs, Tim Seefeldt, says the department will conduct a review of municipal campaign finance rules — and possibly propose amendments — some time in 2018.