MRU may have contravened third party advertising rules
By Christopher Walsh, reporter
A Calgary resident has filed a complaint with Elections Alberta alleging Mount Royal University contravened new third party advertising legislation at the start of this election campaign by publishing a cover photo and two-page spread on Alison Redford in its alumni magazine.
Kelly Ernst says the timing of the fluff piece on Alison Redford that used words like “smart, articulate, passionate, energized” to describe the Progressive Conservative leader is either a blatant attempt to win her support or simply bad judgment to run a piece distributed to 50,000 alumni the week the election was called that reads like an advertisement.
In any case, Ernst says, it is clear MRU is supporting Redford which is prohibited for a public institution under new election laws.
“She is a political candidate, first and foremost, that’s what she’s known for, that’s what her job is,” he said. “Having her as a full page cover at the start of an election campaign, spoke very clearly to the idea that Mount Royal University supports this candidate.”
MRU vice-president of student affairs, Brian Fleming, says the piece is simply a “celebration” of an alumni’s achievements and that the timing is just a coincidence.
“The alumni magazine is about telling our alumni about other successful alumni. It’s celebrating her success,” he said, adding the cover story was first conceived last fall when Redford won the Tory leadership.
“We’re not trying to market or promote anything, we’re only celebrating one of our most successful alumns,” Fleming said.
He stated MRU does not endorse or support any candidate.
But the article about Alison Redford does not have a byline on it, which makes the piece appear suspicious. Fleming later confirmed it was a Reflections staff writer who wrote the piece and did in fact interview Redford for it.
Ernst says it still appears MRU – a public institution funded by tax dollars – is supporting Redford, despite rules forbidding institutions including universities and other publically-funded groups from partaking in third party advertising.
“In the [Election] Act, it is very clear that it is a no-no, you don’t do that,” Ernst said. “Even in that context, Mount Royal University still went ahead with this particular article. The point that she is alumni has nothing to do with it.”
A spokesman with Elections Alberta says they are currently looking into the matter. Investigations into other allegations of political parties receiving contributions from prohibited corporations are ongoing.
The new rules for this campaign require any third party who spends more than $1,000 in advertising for a candidate to register with Elections Alberta.
“We’ve tried to educate and inform as many people as we can about third party advertising,” said Drew Westwater. “We’re busy interpreting [the application of the new laws] now.”
If Mount Royal University is convicted of violating third party advertising laws under the Elections Act, they could face fines up to $100,000. Westwater could not provide a time frame for when the results of their investigation might be known.
“It depends how quickly we can get all the information we need,” he said.