September 25, 2012
Leveling the Playing Field
Cap needed on
political party donations
Released by Dermod Travis, Integrity BC
1,000 delegates from 189 municipalities and districts across B.C.
gathering this week in Victoria for the annual conference of the
Union of B.C. Municipalities
And for many of
them the recent appointment of Bill Bennett as Minister of
Community, Sport and Cultural Development may very well seem like
Bennett held the
same post in 2010, when he also served as co-chair of the Local
Government Elections Task Force that former Premier Gordon Campbell
established in 2009 after concerns were raised across the province
over how local elections are conducted in B.C.
The Task Force's report and recommendations have been sitting on a
shelf in the minister's office ever since.
Despite Attorney General Shirley Bond's commitment earlier this year
that the Task's Force's recommendations would be implemented in time
for the 2014 elections, the legislative clock is ticking fast and
with the fall sitting of the legislature cancelled that clock may
very well have “tocked” on such an ambitious undertaking.
And besides, with the 2011 local elections having come and gone,
it's quite possible that some of the Task's Force's recommendations
are now well past their best before date and a few others might
require a bit of dusting off before they can be presented to the
For instance, there were two gaping holes in the Task Force's
recommendations: there was no call for a ban on corporate and union
donations nor a cap on individual donations; even though many
municipalities had called for both in their presentations before the
In drafting their report, it's unlikely that the Task Force had ever
considered the possibility that one individual alone would donate
$960,000 to a political party, as Vancouver businessman Rob
Macdonald did in 2011 with his donation to the NPA.
So with the legislature on hiatus and in the spirit that idle hands
are the devil's workshop, there's no better time for these two
issues to be revisited by the government before it drafts
It also wouldn't hurt to dust off those recommendations on spending
limits too; because in many of the 2011 races local candidates spent
far in excess of the per registered voter limit that exists at the
Regrettably, it also seemed that the candidates who spent the most
in 2011 were the candidates who were elected. Suggesting that in
many races money may have been the determining factor behind a
candidate's victory instead of their position on various local
It's why spending limits are so critical to local elections. Without
them many candidates will simply opt-out of local races leaving the
field to the well-to-do.
And while some smaller municipalities oppose spending limits because
they believe that limits will be insufficient to conduct a local
campaign, this doesn't have to be the case.
One size needn't fit all, as other provinces have already shown.
By putting a base spending limit in place that is topped off with an
additional per voter expense limit based on a range of community
sizes and the respective costs of running a campaign, the fears of
districts, towns and villages can easily be addressed.
Ontario sets a base limit across the province of $7,500 for the
mayor's chair and $5,000 for a councillor. On top of this,
candidates can then spend up to 85 cents per elector.
In Quebec, the base limit for mayor is $5,400 and $2,700 for a
councillor. The limit per elector is then set through a range of
population sizes, from a low of 42 cents per elector to a high of 72
Without a ban on corporate and union donations, a cap on individual
donations and limits on campaign spending, local campaigns will
become increasingly more costly as candidates come to the conclusion
that money buys elections.
By way of illustration: the four municipal parties competing for the
keys to Vancouver City Hall in 2011 spent $5.2 million, in a city
with 418,878 registered voters of whom only 144,823 actually cast a
Campaign spending by those four parties worked out to $35.90 for
A figure that UBCM delegates should keep in mind as they chat in the
corridors this week and when they try and buttonhole Bill Bennett
over that dusty Local Government Elections Task Force.
Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.
Copyright (c) 2012 The Valley Voice