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Political challenge

The immediate future and stability of the Alberta Party is up in the air pending a court decision.
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The immediate future and stability of the Alberta Party is up in the air pending a court decision.

This past week, news broke that Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel had failed to file his financial report on time with Elections Alberta after he secured his party nomination for the Edmonton-McClung riding in May. Several of his fellow Alberta Party candidates also failed to file on time.

The mistake is an embarrassing lapse for a political veteran who spent more than a decade on Edmonton city council, most of that as mayor, before entering provincial politics in 2014 under then-premier Jim Prentice.

But the penalty applied to this offence – a five-year ban on running in provincial elections – is unreasonable and borders on preposterous.

Mandel’s excuse for missing the deadline was twofold: first, that the deadline itself was unclear; and second, that his CFO fell ill and didn’t file on time. He’s now asked the courts to rule on the clarity of the deadline and the level of penalty applied.

Mandel’s financial report was in itself a non-issue: he neither received nor spent money for the nomination campaign. Also of importance is that this was an internal party nomination, which is, of course, distinct from the general election.

This rule, which was introduced recently by the NDP government, was ostensibly brought in to increase campaign transparency and tighten requirements for financial reporting, but it may constitute a government overreach. Rules are made for a reason, but in a democracy there are instances where they can and should be challenged – this is no exception.

It is also worth taking into consideration the damaging effect this penalty has, not just on Mandel but on his party as a whole. With Notley’s NDP government on the cusp of calling an election, a party shakeup at the leader level is the last thing the Alberta Party needs. That could have a catastrophic effect on a party that already has its work cut out for it in convincing Albertans it is a viable alternative to either the NDP or Jason Kenney’s United Conservatives.

People are expected to abide by the rules, but rules are expected to be fair. Mandel revealed he did nothing wrong, except fail to file on time, and for that he’s prohibited for representing his party in the upcoming election and he’s slapped with a five-year ban on running in a provincial election.

Some may see Mandel’s error as an indictment of his leadership capabilities, or proof that the Alberta Party is not ready to take a prominent role in the province’s political scene. The point is well taken, but it’s the result of an overly punitive rule. Mandel has no excuse, but the punishment does not fit the crime.