The NDP are no stranger to using political power as a commodity. Their biggest problem lately is that a political party has to have influence, in order to put it up for sale.
Saskatchewan unions have been a fickle, fairweather bunch, particularly post-2011. If they expect to ever have allies in government again, they’re going to have to crack their open wallets and put their money where they want their mouth to be.
That said, the point of this series is to think about if that’s really how we want democracy in Saskatchewan to operate.
There is no clear frontrunner for the Saskatchewan NDP’s top union donor:
2008: SEIU Local 333 (Service Employees, Saskatoon chapter – predominantly non-health hospital and healthcare workers) $5553
2009: United Steelworkers $6246.80
2010: Sask Building and Construction Trades Council $51 500
2011: UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers – Affinity Credit Union, Superstore/Extra Foods, Co-op Grocery, Pepsi, Coke, some hotels – it’s kind of a ragtag bunch) Provincial Council $78 000
2012: Saskatchewan Building and Trades Council $12 383
2013: United Steelworkers $32 680
2014: United Steelworkers $7500
CUPE, Saskatchewan’s largest union, is nowhere close to being the NDP’s largest donor.
The Sask Teachers’ Federation and Saskatchewan’s Union of Nurses have not donated a thing to the Saskatchewan NPD – neither directly or indirectly (not since 2006, anyway).
Sask’s Government Employees Union doesn’t donate anything to the party directly.
Which brings us to third-party advertising.
Third-party advertising means a person or group (including a union or association), unrelated to any political party, who use paid advertising to promote their choice of political party, candidate, or position on a political issue.
In the United States they’re called Political Action Committees, or PACs, and there is no limit on the amount of money they can raise or spend on advertising, making them hugely influential, and hugely controversial.
In Canada, third-party advertisers are allowed, but must register and report to Elections Canada. They are also capped at $206 000 nation-wide, or $4116 per riding – a pittance of the cost of a decent advertising campaign.
In Alberta, third-party advertisers have to register and report, have donor limits, and are shut down during writ periods. In BC, they have to register, report, and have a $150K advertising spending limit during writ periods.
In fact, while the rules are light in PEI, Saskatchewan is the only province in Canada without so much as one rule or regulation governing third-party advertising.
Which is why on TV, radio, billboards and in print we’re subjected to a neverending stream of ads like this:
Okay, this one isn’t that political, but its condescending, passive aggressive tone (“Almost like someone put it there”) sends me into Hulk rage.
ProTip from a marketing consultant: don’t talk to your audience like their combined age is a single digit.
Anyway, that animated abomination ran forever, and we all learned something: only a unionized worker knows how to turn on a tap. Imagine that.
You’ve seen this:
Who didn’t see this one dozens of times in March:
Notlistening.ca was the product of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour. Fun fact about the SFL: their total annual operating budget is just over $2-million, of which they spend $870K on employee wages and benefits. No wonder they’re against capitalism – no business on the planet would survive those labour costs.
Prophetic, given Saskatchewan still does not have a NDP government.
What does this non-NDP, anti-Sask Party advertising all cost?
None of them are going to tell you, but given I buy advertising for a living, I can ballpark it.
A standard tv ad campaign, on a moderate rotation across CTV, CBC, and Global during peak times in both Regina and Saskatoon is going to cost about $10 000 per week. Toss in urban and rural radio, billboards, print advertising once per week in both major city newspapers, as well as in the rural weeklies, and you’re doubling that spend to $20 000 per week.
Therefore if two different third-parties, such as CUPE and SGEU, each run moderate ad campaigns for six months out of the year, which they do, a million dollars per year in pro-NDP advertising is projected onto the Saskatchewan populace.
If the NDP enjoy $7-million in third-party advertising over seven years, there’s not much they can say about the Sask Party raking in $9-million in corporate donations over the same timeframe.
However, if these third-party ads were intended to weaken the Sask Party or bolster the NDP, those in charge might want to revisit their strategy.
Efficiencies aside, let’s call third-party advertising what it is – unregulated, undisclosed campaign contributions. Yet, as an advocate of free speech, I can’t say I think they should be quashed, especially during a writ period, when dialogue and debate around policy and issues is more important than ever.
I also can’t say that third-party advertising in Saskatchewan is flouting campaign laws, because there aren’t any.
Speaking of advertising, you’ll note in the above chart I’ve compared the NDP’s union donations to cash listed on the Sask Party’s fiscal returns as other revenue – “advertising at events”.
These are sponsorships, likely of the Premier’s golf tournament and/or dinners. Unless Mr and Mrs Moneypants are advertising their upcoming garage sale on Hole 8, this ‘advertising’ at Sask Party events is purchased by corporations – in other words, unregulated, undisclosed corporate campaign donations.
And that annoys the f**k out of me, because those donations are flouting campaign laws – and at just over $2-million, they equal almost 20 per cent of the Sask Party’s corporate cash intake.
So let’s recap:
- in any given year any individual or corporation can donate what ever they want to any political party in Saskatchewan, sometimes significant amounts, but we’re to believe they’re just generous and expect nothing in return;
- while 9 out of every 10 corporate donor dollars go to the Sask Party, the NDP is not far behind when third-party, union-driven advertising is factored into the equation;
- that does not excuse the Sask Party quietly taking in $2-million over six years in undisclosed corporate donations;
- there are absolutely no laws or regulations in Saskatchewan to govern any of this.
Politicians lawmakers and cash, without rules. What could possibly go wrong?
There is a solution that at least somewhat reconciles freedom of speech with fairness and accountability.
First, scrap corporate and union donations to Saskatchewan political parties – neither are people, therefore they have no business contributing to the electoral system in a “one person one vote” democracy.
Then, pass legislation requiring third parties to register with Elections Saskatchewan, and limit the amount they can spend during a writ period.
Finally, cap the amount any individual can donate annually to political parties, constituencies, candidates and causes – third-party organizations – combined.
Yes, there will still be those who can donate more than others, but we can’t regulate income, so we can only regulate the limit under which they can exert influence.
In Saskatchewan, we like to be a big deal. We like to strut our stuff on the national and global stage, reminding everyone of how far we’ve come. And we have.
Yet, occasionally it feels like on certain issues, we’re awfully content to lag behind. On this one especially, it’s time to grow up.