COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth pushes finance-reform motion

A second motion dealing with election-financing reform is coming to council about half a year after the ruling Vision Vancouver outspent every other civic party to win the race to City Hall.

Elected on a platform that included a pledge to advocate for changes in spending and disclosure rules, Vision councillors previously tossed to the back burner a motion filed by lone Non-Partisan Association councillor Suzanne Anton.

Voting along with the Vision caucus on March 24 to defer until the end of the year discussions on Anton’s campaign-reform proposals was Coun. Ellen Woodsworth of the Coalition of Progressive Electors.

This time, however, Woodsworth is bringing forward her own motion. The COPE councillor says there’s now a different situation.

The Union of B.C. Municipalities is holding its annual convention in Vancouver from September 29 to October 2, and according to Woodsworth, Premier Gordon Campbell recently stated that he’s waiting to hear from the UBCM about the issue of electoral reforms.

“We have a deadline to get submissions in to the UBCM,” Woodsworth told the Georgia Straight, adding that all petitions to the organization have to be submitted by June 30.

According to her, council’s meeting on June 16 will be the last opportunity for the city to authorize a submission to the UBCM. “If we don’t get it moving provincially, we’re not going to see any changes before the next municipal election,” she said.

Woodsworth’s motion urges the city to request the UBCM to ask the provincial government to amend the Vancouver Charter and the Local Government Act to require full and continuing disclosure of political donations. These include all contributions not only during the campaign itself but also during nominations and between elections.

The proposed motion also recalls one of the recommendations made by the Vancouver Electoral Reform Commission chaired by former B.C. Supreme Court judge Thomas Berger. The 2004 Berger report suggested that if a party incurs debt in the course of a campaign, all donations to that party made until the debt is fully retired must be reported as campaign contributions.

In the last election, Vision ran a $242,000 deficit, as it spent more than it had raised.

Although Woodsworth’s motion notes that campaign expenditures by parties and individuals have “grown exponentially”, she does not recommend any specific spending limits. But she will ask the UBCM to put this issue on its agenda.

In last year’s election, Vision spent $1.9 million, more than the NPA and COPE (at $1 million and $347,000) combined.

The Berger report suggested a system along the lines of the New Zealand model, wherein a candidate in a ward with a population of 40,000 to 50,000 can spend up to only $30,000 in that country’s currency.

Woodsworth’s motion also recalls another recommendation by the Berger commission. In his report, Berger expressed concern about the absence of limits on political donations, noting that corporations and unions “may wield disproportionate influence in a democratic process”. Berger suggested a campaign contribution limit of $1,000 for corporations and $500 for unions may be a good starting point for discussion.



Think City

Jun 13, 2009 at 11:17am

While our organization applauds COPE Councillor Woodsworth's attempts to get this issue moving again, why the city needs to go through the UBCM to make it's elections more fair is not at all clear.

The Vancouver Charter is amended all the time by Victoria at the city's request on other matters, so appealing through the UBCM may only serve to complicate the matter even further, as other municipalities are likely to raise objections to Vancouver's proposal for campaign spending and contribution limits, fuller disclosure between elections and the many other 2004 Berger Commission recommendations..

Moreover, by punting this to the UBCM for action (something both the BCNDP and BC Liberals have suggested recently is the necessary process) only serves to obscure the fact that Vancouver's civic elections are the most expensive and unregulated in Canada (see

The NPA, COPE and Vision all say they support the Berger reforms and the city has requested these changes to campaign financing be addressed by Victoria twice since 2005.

What's the hold up, Premier?