After complaints were filed with Elections Alberta during the October 2021 municipal election, an organization in Rocky View County was fined $750 for running anonymous attack ads in the Rocky View Weekly without registering as a third-party advertiser.
In a verdict posted on Elections Alberta's website, Elections Commissioner Glen Resler stated a Rocky View County-based organization, “Albertans for Property Rights and Democracy (AFPRAD),” was issued a $750 'administrative penalty' for violating the province's Local Authorities Election Act.
Specifically, Resler determined AFPRAD had accepted contributions for its advertisements without registering as a third-party advertiser.
“AFPRAD was found to have contravened sections 163(1A) and 163(1B) of the LAEA, for not registering as a [third-party advertiser] and for accepting advertising contributions when not registered as a [third-party advertiser],” Resler wrote.
“It was determined that the ads attributed to Mr. McAllister, Ms. Locke, and Mr. Matthews were all paid for by AFPRAD,”
The investigation into AFPRAD's ads in the newspaper was launched after a complaint was submitted to Alberta's Elections Commissioner by Rocky View Forward, a political advocacy organization in Rocky View County. Their complaints were about full-page newspaper ads sponsored by three RVC residents, including former Chestermere-Rocky View MLA Bruce McAllister, who is a current staff member for Premier Danielle Smith, as well as long-time county residents Louise Locke and Rob Matthews.
Rocky View Forward spokesperson and president Janet Ballantyne said her group filed their complaint after suspecting AFPRAD's ads in the lead-up to the municipal election were not compliant with Alberta's advertising legislation, which requires anyone who spends more than $1,000 on election advertisements to register as a third-party advertiser with their local municipality beforehand.
“It was obvious to us from the first ad that Bruce McAllister put in the paper that it hadn’t completely complied with what the third-party advertising rules were,” she said in an interview. “So I poked around a bit to find out whether they had registered as a third-party advertiser.”
Calling the County, Ballantyne claimed she discovered her organization was the only registered third-party advertiser with RVC, thus confirming her suspicions that AFPRAD wasn't following the rules.
“At that point, I said, ‘There are rules, and they’re very clear and simple.’” she said. “If you’re not going to follow the rules, you should be called out. So we filed an initial complaint based on the ad.”
AFPRAD ran full-page election ads in the Rocky View Weekly on Sept. 21, 2021, and then in every issue afterwards until Oct. 12, 2021. The first ad, attributed to McAllister, criticized incumbent RVC candidates. Kevin Hanson, Samanntha Wright, and Crystal Kissel for supporting the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB).
An ad in the subsequent issue criticized Rocky View Schools Board of Trustees candidate Jerry Arshinoff for his endorsement of RVC Division 2 candidate Don Kochan. The ad also criticized Kochan for accepting a $400,000 severance package after departing his previous job as the Town of Canmore's chief administrative officer.
Ballantyne said what irked her most about the ads was that it was unclear who AFPRAD was, and that there was no contact information for the organization listed. She claimed the organization also didn't appear to have much of an online presence.
“In my mind, the rules were put in place so that people not only clearly knew who was running an ad, but had a way to contact them,” she said. “That was a critical part of what the legislation was asking – that in any ad, not only do you clearly identify who you are, but you also clearly identify how anyone can get a hold of you.
“It wasn’t complicated legislation to comply with and it was put in place so that voters who read the ads have some assurance of who it was who was trying to sway their opinion. We just felt very strongly, as an organization, that the rules were there for a very good reason and they weren’t hard to follow. So if you weren’t going to follow them, you should be called out.”
After submitting her complaint, Ballantyne said she was told by Elections Alberta representatives that it could take up to three years to conduct an investigation. A little over a year later, she received an email in early January that confirmed AFPRAD had been found to be in violation of the Local Authorities Elections Act.
“Quite honestly, had they registered and put the proper identifications as required on all of their ads, and filed their disclosure forms appropriately, we wouldn’t have complained,” she said. “Politics isn’t an immaculately clean sport – you expect some dirt to be thrown around. But I do think it’s reasonable to expect people to follow basic legislative requirements – especially when they’re as simple as these ones were.”
Neither McAllister nor Elections Alberta responded to a request for comment before the Rocky View Weekly's print deadline. If responses are received, the online version of this article will be updated on RockyviewToday.com.