If Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson decides to run for another term, his American friends could be of little help should the province decide to prohibit foreign contributions in civic elections.
The ban is one of three measures being sought in a City of Vancouver–sponsored resolution on campaign-finance reform to be put forward at this year’s convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities. The two others involve the setting of limits on contributions by individuals and organizations and a cap on campaign expenses.
For Kennedy Stewart, associate professor in SFU’s graduate public-policy program, the recommendation is the “most important” proposal coming forward at the UBCM assembly scheduled from Monday to Friday (September 28 to October 2) at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
“When you have $6 million spent in the last civic election here in Vancouver for part-time council positions that pay $50,000 a year—that is, more money spent in the local election per person than federal- or provincial-level [elections]—there’s something wrong,” Stewart told the Straight.
At the time of the phone interview, Stewart was preparing a list of B.C. mayors whom he plans to solicit in favour of the Vancouver resolution, which was the brainchild of Coalition of Progressive Electors councillor Ellen Woodsworth.
Stewart suggested that politicians depending on either corporate or organized-labour donations will not be disadvantaged by limits on contributions. “What it will mean is that politicians will have to go out and get smaller donations from a large number of people,” he said. “In the end, it leads to more engagement, and I think that’s really the key here.”
Stewart recalled that at least two Americans supported Robertson’s campaign to be the mayoral candidate of Vision Vancouver. These were Gary Hirshberg, chair of the New Hampshire–based organic-yogurt producer Stonyfield Farm, and Andrew Weil, founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. The two each gave amounts ranging from $1,000 to $4,999.
“They actually spent money to influence our politics here north of the border, and that’s not allowed in any jurisdiction,” Stewart said about Robertson’s U.S. donors. “The Americans don’t even allow it.”