Bill 81: The ‘what the hell was that’ Bill

“Bill 81 has always been about strengthening the democratic process in our province.” – Kaycee Madu, Justice Minister.  

“[Bill 81 is] one of the most overt antidemocratic moves we’ve seen from the current government in this place.” – Sarah Hoffman, NDP MLA

This is your lucky day! An unknown benefactor just bought you a membership in the UCP without your knowledge or consent.


Gosh, I don’t know. let’s check out the debate in the House on the last day of the fall sitting and find out.  

Just delivering campaign promises

Law students are taught to interpret legislation by asking themselves: what problem is this statute trying to fix? If the answer isn’t obvious on the face of the legislation, we turn to Hansard which records the debate in the House.

Justice minister Madu told the House that the purpose of Bill 81 (the Election Statutes Amendment Act) is to deliver on the UCP’s campaign promises to:    

  • Remove big money and foreign money from Alberta politics  
  • Close the Alberta Federation of Labour “loophole” that allowed the AFL to pour “millions…into funding the NDP campaign”
  • Ensure only Albertans could impact the outcome of an election

Sounds very UCP, right. So why did three UCP MLAs (Leela Aheer, Richard Gotfried, David Hanson), and the two independents (former UCP MLAs Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen) join the NDP in voting against it?

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu

Because Bill 81 made changes that are undemocratic.

Becoming a member of a political party just got a whole lot easier

The amendment that received the most airtime was the one that tacitly authorizes people to purchase party memberships for someone else without their knowledge or consent…in bulk. (Aheer said she, her husband and her kids could purchase 1600 memberships).

Before Bill 81, section 25 of the Election Finances Contribution and Disclosure Act addressed the characterization of an annual party membership. A fee of $50 or less was not considered a political contribution, anything above the $50 threshold was considered a political contribution.

After Bill 81, the section says an annual membership fee paid by a person on behalf of another person for that person’s membership is considered a political contribution by the person who paid the fee. This adds a new wrinkle that acknowledges the legality of X purchasing a membership for Y and characterizing that transaction as a political contribution.

The critics argue…

The dissenting UCP MLAs fought to amend Bill 81 by adding words to the effect that X could not buy a membership for Y without Y’s knowledge or consent. The government rejected this amendment.

The dissenting UCP MLAs and independent MLAs argued the ability to buy memberships in “bulk” would allow special interest groups to change the outcome of nomination races (and leadership races?). It would legalize something that had been illegal in the past, and it goes to the heart of the ongoing RCMP investigation into fraud, forgery, and bribery in the last leadership race. Questions were raised with respect to electronic voting and what happens when these bulk memberships are transferred to a PIN.

All the critics argued the amendment was undemocratic because “membership brokers” delivering “bulk participants” would have greater influence and access to power and “bulk participants” are not connected to the candidates the way “aware participants” who donate their time and money are.  

The government replies…

If the government wants to pass a piece of legislation that is so controversial its own caucus members can’t support it, it must be able to provide a cogent rationale for the amendment.

It should be able to answer the question: what problem is this statute intended to solve?

Guess what. It failed.     

The government’s justification of Bill 81 can be boiled down to this:   

  • It’s always been legal for X to buy a membership for Y. The Chief Electoral Officer disagreed. Madu said the Chief Electoral Officer was wrong.  
  • The NDP are fussing because the UCP’s nomination races are competitive and theirs aren’t. How is this relevant and how does it address the UCP MLAs request for an amendment saying X can’t buy Y a membership without Y’s knowledge and consent?   
  • It’s a privilege to serve as an MLA under the leadership of the man who sat next to the greatest prime minister (Harper) the country every had. Relevance?
  • You can’t impute what you cannot impute…Lord Denning, greatest jurist…House of Lords. Entertaining but irrelevant.
  • The dissenting UCP MLAs can’t delay the bill just because they don’t like it. Madu said he was concerned about the public health measures but that didn’t mean he was going “to destroy the government.” Irrelevant and bombastic.
  • The UCP by-laws prohibit X from buying a membership for Y. Irrelevant and hardly reassuring given that the by-laws can be changed with the stroke of a pen and the guy who holds the pen is the same guy who’s pushing Bill 81.  

Scared and embarrassed

The government rammed the bill through by invoking closure for the 25th time (the NDP resorted to closure 4 times during their entire term).

Why the rush?

Independent ex-UCP MLA Loewen says Bill 81 was flawed and the government was scared and embarrassed that its own caucus wanted to amend it.


The other explanation is Jason Kenney wanted Bill 81 in place in plenty of time for the UCP leadership review and possible leadership race against his nemesis, Brian Jean, who won the UCP nomination for the upcoming by-election with 68% of the vote by running an “oust Kenney” campaign.

On the bright side, Bill 81 declared the last Monday in May four years after the previous election as election day. Woo hoo!

Until then if you find a UCP membership under the Christmas tree keep it as a relic of the bygone party that Jason Kenney started and destroyed in four short years.

*Updated to correct the reference to Brian Jean winning the UCP nomination, not the by-election.

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42 Responses to Bill 81: The ‘what the hell was that’ Bill

  1. Sharon Hundert says:

    Great words as usual Susan. If someone buys a UCP membership in my name there will be hell to pay….

    • Sharon, that was my thought as well! The fact that Kenney used the legislative process to make this happen is appalling. The rules don’t matter to Kenney. When they get in the way he changes them. How else can he admit that he’ll be spending Christmas with 3 other families, this would be a violation of the healthcare restrictions, but he’s confident the restrictions will be relaxed by then. Funny how that works.

  2. Sandy says:

    Another Excellent Read Susan.
    Thank You

  3. Dwayne says:

    Susan: Thanks for sharing another great blog. The UCP clearly has no concern, or respect for democracy in any way, shape or form. It was apparent from the beginning. For starters, look at how they got into power, which was by very questionable means, and how the premier of Alberta, (if he really deserves that title), has fired Lorne Gibson, for investigating his rise leadership of the UCP, when he was on some useless venture in Texas. Look at how so many in the UCP party were fined for election related infractions. Also, look at how the UCP likes to put bills in, or rescinding long-standing policies, like Peter Lougheed’s 1976 Coal Policy, by silencing opposition, or by rescinding the policies of past governments, on weekends, including long weekends, thinking nobody would notice. We also still haven’t seen the donors list for the supposed premier of Alberta. Why not? Furthermore, the supposed premier of Alberta wants to abolish the R.C.M.P and establish an Alberta provincial police force. The R.C.M.P are still investigating the supposed premier of Alberta, and how he arrived at his position of being the UCP leader, so it’s quite obvious why he wants the R.C.M.P gone. The robocalls issue was something from the supposed premier of Alberta, with his tenure as a CPC cabinet minister, so it’s no surprise to see him not respect democracy in Alberta. Here is a fitting song, from Bruce Cockburn. It’s from the 1980s. Call It Democracy. I did see Bruce Cockburn live and have met him after the show.

  4. Dwayne, that Cockburn song nailed it and it was done in the the 1980s. Not very encouraging when you consider that it’s now 2021 and things are even worse.
    Have you seen the seen the British show Years and Years. It’s streaming on Crave. A Trump-like woman is elected PM and the horror that ensues is shocking, primarily because you can see how easily it could happen.
    What boggled my mind with Bill 81 is how little attention it got from the mainstream media. There is no conceivable reason why X should be allowed to buy a party membership for Y without Y’s knowledge or consent unless X has less than honourable reasons for doing so.

  5. The most anti-democratic legislation ever in the Alberta Legislature. It really demonstrates how little respect the UCP has for Albertans. Shame.

    • Esme, so many of us have pointed this out and yet there has been very little discussion about it in the main stream media. This is unfortunate because as someone once said democracy dies in darkness when no one turns on the light.

      • jerrymacgp says:

        “Democracy dies in darkness” is on the masthead of the hated-by-Republicans Washington Post …

  6. Public Servant says:

    Thank you again for trying to shine some sunlight on what Jason Kenney is up to. He will do anything to hold onto to power and he thinks people who follow the rules are chumps. And why wouldn’t he? He’s been getting away with it for years. One can only hope that the RCMP investigation into the UCP leadership race finds enough evidence to charge him before the next election is here. With the Alberta economy on the mend I worry that Albertans will re-elect this grifter.

    • Public Servant, you couldn’t get a clearer example of “people who follow the rules are chumps” than Kenney’s decision to lift public health restrictions in time for Christmas because people won’t follow the rules anyway. The fact that he’s the premier and these words fall from his lips with no thought whatsoever as to their implications is mind boggling.

  7. Dwayne says:

    Susan: I thought I’d share another song from The Summer Of Love, in 1967, by The Beatles. John Lennon is actually the composer, even though the credits for the songwriting go to John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The song is All You Need Is Love. It’s a nice happy song.

  8. Michelle W. says:

    I’d suggest that it will have been four very long years. Another 532 days before we can start to rebuild. Who knows what will be left to work with by then. 😔

    • Michelle, we’ll certainly have our work cut out for us. Thankfully Rachel is much smarter and less ideologically driven than Kenney. So at least we’ll have a premier with a vision that is more than just simply trying to hold on to power.

  9. Linda says:

    So I’m wondering what I could do should I discover my name attached to a UCP membership. Can I sue? Would this fall under ‘identity theft’? Frankly the only reason I would ever purchase a UCP membership would be to vote against Jason Kenney & to demand his removal as party leader. Though I would also vote to rescind these appalling pieces of legislation asap. This always presuming ‘my’ putative membership would permit my voting against in the first place.

    • Linda, if the law allows X to buy a membership for Y without Y’s consent I don’t think there’s anything you could do about it unless you could show that someone used your membership to vote without your permission. Sounds like we’re back to where we were in 2017 and the RCMP investigation into what went haywire in Kenney’s first leadership campaign.

  10. Paul Pearlman says:

    I didn’t know a bill in the legislature could lead to a comedy sketch.Sitting next to the greatest Prime Minister of all time Stephen Harper CBC’s 22 Minutes could spend a year on that statement alone. I am laughing at that statement but really maybe we should be crying??

  11. mikegklein says:

    Ah Gillian Steward! She is a GEM!
    Reading Soapbox and Gillian Steward has me thinking, I wonder what happens when some clever operators decide to buy a membership of their own, then buy 400 gift card type memberships with the proviso that none of the recipients ever have been affiliated with any version of conservative parties.
    Of course this is notwithstanding any questions of identity theft, fraud through misrepresentation and other minor legal details.
    So this is what it’s like to have Alberta politics turn into a drinking game, Scotch preferred.

    • Mike, I was talking with a friend about how hard it is not to become cynical given the present state of politics in Alberta these days, and you’ve hit on a solution…we can let off some steam by turning it into a drinking game. You bring the Scotch, I’ll bring the G&Ts (my favourite drink regardless of the season).

  12. Mike J Danysh says:

    So “membership brokers” could buy up to 400 memberships for other people, out of the goodness of their hearts. Hmm. Let’s say Jason Kenney packs the attendance list at his upcoming leadership review, and manages to survive the vote. The peons could still force an election for party leader, couldn’t they?

    Somebody, not me, could apply to the UCP for a membership (using a fictitious name, like “Walter W. Watziski”). Add a random-letter Gmail address, plus a 30-day disposable cell phone (can we get those in Canada? I wouldn’t know). Then gin up a list of 400 names, at $10 per “head.” Cost to vote against Jason Kenney 400 times: Cell phone plus $4000. (By money order, I guess; poor “Walter” doesn’t trust banks or credit cards.)

    Wow. I dunno. Maybe if the tax credit for contributions to a political party is high enough.

    No, on mature consideration (after reading this CBC report: )
    I’ll just leave it to the experts.

    • Carlos says:

      This is a very interesting article – I just ask the question – How is this possible in a civilized society?

      Thanks Mike

    • Mike, thanks for the link to the CBC article. I wonder if this is what Kenney was talking about when he said some people aren’t as good at the “tactical” side of politics as they need to be. Stack the deck in your favour seems to be a favourite tactic.
      Saying something is true when it’s clearly not also figures right up there.
      No wonder people become disillusioned with politics.

      • Mike J Danysh says:

        Susan and Carlos, there are people who say, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough.” The only application I can think of is two guys courting the same girl. And even there, I wouldn’t agree.

        For Cons, the “cheating = trying harder” equation might make sense. A more accurate statement, for Republican-wannabes like Kenney, Scheer, Harper et al would be “Rules are for the other guy.” It’s closely related to the modern version of the Golden Rule: “Whoever has the gold, makes the rules.”

        Still, I see even Kenney and the UCP can learn from experience, if it was painful enough. First, Kenney announced (once again, against professional advice and simple caution) that he was relaxing Covid restrictions in time for Christmas. I guess he didn’t want anyone tattling that “Jason broke the rules again!” when he goes for dinner with his mom and brother.

        And just in—UCP MLAs were told to stay in Canada this Christmas. That’s because so many, last year, broke the First Commandment of the Bureaucrat: “Thou shalt not embarrass the Boss.” Kenney’s decree just happened to sideswipe Erin O’Toole, who has NOT told CPC MPs to stay in Canada. That’s probably more coincidence than planned smackdown, because I’m pretty sure Jason doesn’t CARE what happens to ex-buddy Erin these days. (I wonder if Erin is returning Jason’s calls these days—and vice versa.)

  13. Dave says:

    I suppose intelligent people can disagree on some matters related to political financing, such as what the limits should be and who can make contributions. However, allowing people to buy memberships for other people, possibly without their knowledge or consent, just seems like a really dumb idea all around.

    Usually when intelligent debate is happening, one can identify a good reason or at least some plausible reasons for the proposed change. Also, there was no groundswell of public opinion saying hey lets have people buy memberships for other people, so I suspect this (and most of the other changes in Bill 81) were only self serving for those making them.

    My suspicion is that in the near future, the UCP will also quietly change its party rule about people not being able to buy memberships for others, perhaps just in time so its leadership review meeting can be very well stacked.

    • Dave, I suspect you’re absolutely right.
      Jason Nixon justified this amendment by saying the government had no business meddling in the affairs of a private club. (There aren’t many “private clubs” that determine who will collect our taxes and govern our province).
      In addition to the X buys memberships for Y amendment, Bill 81 closed the “AFL loophole”. If the government shouldn’t meddle with the affairs of a private club, as Nixon said, then it had no business passing legislation attempting to block third party advertising by the AFL on the basis that the AFL has 2 seats in the NDP party leadership structure.
      Furthermore if having seats on the board of a political party is enough to disqualify certain groups from advertising, then let’s take a closer look at the affiliations of the UCP board members. I don’t know who’s on the board, but one place to look would be whether the groups run by those individuals (perhaps car insurance companies) got special breaks from this government.

  14. Carlos says:

    Here is the message from our nut case in charge
    Just mingle with unvaccinated and GOD will protect you – I promise you
    This is an absolute nut case who needs to be kicked out and I have been ready to do it for more than a year – just get me close to this idiot and I will show him the door anytime.
    WOW this is getting as weird as an interview with Elon Musk who seems to be the new United States genius of this century.

    • Carlos, I couldn’t resist responding to your comment about Elon Musk (Time magazine’s person of the year). Musk’s single-minded determination to set up a colony on Mars (to save humanity from itself) mystified me until I heard an interview on CBC where an expert on multi-billionaire tech moguls said these guys think they should be the rulers of the world. They’d be autocrats of course because they know what’s best for everyone. This got me thinking about Musk who’s busy building his own little empire on Mars and Zuckerberg who’s busy building his own Metaverse (alternative reality) here on earth.
      Between tech meglomaniacs and political meglomaniacs we’ve got our work cut out for us.

  15. Carlos says:

    ‘The government rammed the bill through by invoking closure for the 25th time (the NDP resorted to closure 4 times during their entire term).’

    This sentence from your post says lots about what this government or non-government is like.
    No words needed.
    I think that by now everyone that reads Susan’s posts regularly knows my love for this government.
    It just does not stop and now to end 2021 we will all get together with the unvaccinated included and just have a great Winter. That a person can be so silly to just come out of an horrendous 4th wave and with Omicron taking over for being more transmissible than delta, and make the announcement he made is to me beyond idiotic. Any lesson learned Jason Kenney? Obviously not Not even a sense of responsibility for what happened when he went on vacation and the 4th wave hit us hard – many people died and that is a reality I do not think he understands. Not just him but this jewel of a team that now runs this province who seem to be on a marathon to the bottom in terms of standards. From Super Savage Woman to Joker Madu one can find anything in this government menu. It is shocking really.

    • Carlos, I too cannot figure out how Kenney can continue to make the same mistake over and over again. Having said that Boris Johnson was hospitalized with covid early on, he appeared to take it seriously, then went all flabby on restrictions because the Tories didn’t like it. I don’t know if these people think they’re immune from the virus, it’s God’s will that they live, not die, or what, but as long as they’re in power we’re all in trouble.

  16. GoinFawr says:

    Any groups seeking to pocket these folk based on a perceived opportunity presented by this bill should bear in mind that they only have support of 20 percent of the eligible electorate, so the rest are under absolutely no obligation to honour any ‘odious’ contractual orders.

    • Agreed, GoinFawr. Looks like Jason Kenney will do anything he can to scrape up additional support. Now he’s talking about the possibility of a flat tax. I suspect he’s pinning his political future on that and the hope that Alberta’s economy will recover prior to election day. Apparently the way to a conservative voter’s heart is through his pocket book.

  17. Debra says:

    Something to consider … if Kenney “wins” his bid to continue as leader of the UCP (as he is setting himself up with all these new laws…) …and is up against Rachel Notley in the next election, I suspect that it would be easier for Rachel to win… rather than if they replace Kenney, with Brian Jean (who seems to be gearing up to succeed Kenney) …. what to you all think? Maybe we should buy a UCP membership (a whole bunch of them) and vote for Kenney….. with the expectation that he would lose?

    • Debra, I agree with you that it may be easier for Rachel to win in 2023 with Kenney, not Brian Jean, leading the UCP. This is why I’m not too fussed about the upcoming UCP leadership race. What concerns me about Kenney more than anything is all the things he’s done (and will continue to do) to undermine democracy and our respect for the greater public good.
      As to whether we should buy UCP memberships, I’m afraid I just couldn’t do it. 🙂

    • Bob Raynard says:

      Debra, consistent with the theme of your post, I think it might also be better if the NDP did not win the upcoming by-election in Fort MacMurray/LLB. An NDP victory in the conservative stronghold could become a rallying point for conservatives to coalesce before the next general election.

  18. jerrymacgp says:

    First, Brian Jean didn’t win the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election. He won the UCP nomination for a by-election that has yet to be scheduled but must be called before some date in February about which I admit ignorance.

    More substantively, aside from being irrelevant as you stated, the assertion that NDP nominations aren’t “competitive” are also false. Dave Cournoyer does a great job of tracking nomination races for all significant — and many insignificant — political parties at both the provincial and federal level within Alberta; go to his Daveberta blog to see for yourself. Many recent NDP nominations have been contested, with some upsets in which former 2015-19 MLAs who were defeated in 2019 were rebuffed in their attempts to be renominated for the next election.

    • Yes, Jerrymacgp, you’re correct, Brian Jean won the nomination for the upcoming by-election. I corrected the post.
      Also I agree the UCP’s assertion that NDP nominations are not competitive is false. What I meant by saying it was irrelevant was that even if the statement were true, it did not provide any justification to support the amendment of section 25 which would allow X to buy Y a membership without Y’s knowledge or consent. It was the lack of justification that made the statement irrelevant.

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