Vancouver city council has voted against a motion from Green councillor Adriane Carr urging voluntary campaign finance restrictions for the November 2014 election.
Both Vision and NPA councillors voted against the proposal in the absence of provincial regulations to ensure that all municipal parties are complying with campaign finance restrictions.
“This motion of Councillor Carr’s I feel is very dangerous, because then it says, we’re all going to take Scout’s honour, pinky promise, we’ll all do it, but people get desperate during elections, we’ve all seen this over and over again, and somebody could break the rules,” said Vision Vancouver Kerry Jang.
“Practical delivering of democracy is just as important, and this motion does not deliver democracy, but actually delivers an unfair playing field.”
According to a memo from city clerk Janice MacKenzie, any voluntary campaign finance limits adopted by city council would not be enforceable and would only apply to current councillors, not to other candidates running for office, electoral organizations or third party advertisers.
Carr said she believes there could be a level playing field under voluntary limits.
“I think we have, in the public, a feeling of distrust of politicians...I hear us not trusting ourselves, not trusting each other in terms of holding to a voluntary pact together,” she said. “I know that this would be voluntary, it would not be enforceable. It would however be ultimately trackable.
“I think perception here is critical, and it is related to the confidence in democracy, and the democracy in our decisions, and that we should as a council extend the hope that speakers have asked us to uphold, the hope that we can work together in terms of setting some voluntary limits, and adhere to them.”
Speakers who addressed council on the motion included Randy Helten, who said he wants to see action in time for the November 2014 election.
“If you cannot follow the letter of her motion, I appeal to you to follow the spirit of her motion, which is to control the influence of money on our democracy and on our political system in Vancouver,” he told council.
Fern Jeffries, the chair of the Crosstown Residents Association, said the issue of campaign finance limits is “critical to promoting, protecting and preserving the integrity of our democratic system”.
“The appearance of a conflict of interest is created when developers and unions that make significant contributions to election campaigns of candidates for council also have matters that come before council, and that whether or not these conflicts are permitted in law, they harm the reputation of council and impair the legitimacy of decisions,” she stated.
Provincial legislation on campaign finance rules is expected to be debated by MLAs in committee this week. If passed, the legislation will extend the length of civic terms to four years.
Dermod Travis of Integrity B.C. has said the campaign finance changes proposed as part of Bills 20 and 21 “provide little if anything” in the way of serious reforms.
“If you bring in strong spending limits, you force politicians to be more creative, and imaginative, and actually going out to talk to the people who are meant to vote for them,” Travis said during a media briefing earlier this month.
He noted that Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi imposed a limit on himself of 65 cents a voter during his reelection campaign, and came in below that at 57 cents a voter. Nenshi’s average donation to his campaign was below $750, he added.
The Green Party of Vancouver has implemented its own donation limit policy, and its spending limit policy is 65 cents per registered voter for the party. Its donation policy restricts donations to Canadian sources, and stipulates a $5,000 donation limit.
Vancouver municipal parties collectively spent more than $5 million during the 2011 election campaign.