Local Government Elections Task Force may allow corporations to vote

Not long ago, corporations were able to vote in municipal elections in B.C. Since that right was taken away in the 1990s, they’ve been trying to win it back.

Now a provincial task force is reviewing a number of civic electoral reforms to areas including campaign financing, terms in office, and restoration of the corporate vote.

Robin Blencoe, a former minister of municipal affairs, is asking why the practice of allowing business entities to cast a ballot equal to that of a citizen in local elections is even being considered by the B.C. Liberal government.

He pointed out that owners and managers of corporations already have, as individuals, the same voting rights as their fellow citizens.

“I don’t believe they should be given special privilege or stature in something so fundamental as our democratic vote,” Blencoe told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

In 1993, Mike Harcourt’s NDP government initiated a major review of municipal-elections law, with Blencoe shepherding legislation that included stripping away the corporate vote.

“I know the argument. They’ll say, oh, they contribute to the economy and they provide jobs,” he said. “My concern always was that they shouldn’t have undue influence on the voting process. So I went back to ”˜Okay, one person, one vote.’ ”

Earlier this year, the Local Government Elections Task Force released a paper that discussed arguments for and against the reinstatement of the corporate vote. It noted that corporations are not citizens, and that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants only citizens the right to vote for members of the House of Commons and legislative assemblies.

“The possibility of constitutional implications from allowing them a vote at the local level but not provincial or federal level should be explored,” the paper stated.

John Winter, the president and CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, argues that businesses deserve the right to vote.

“There’s a principle involved that says if you’re a taxpayer, you have some say in how your tax money is spent,” Winter told the Straight by phone. “The fact that the corporate world in British Columbia is the major taxpayer in terms of property taxes, with no say, is of concern.”

A 2008 study by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business stated that an average business in B.C. pays three times the tax on a commercial property than is paid on an equivalently valued residential property.

In Vancouver, the study found, a business pays taxes at 4.9 times the rate that is charged on a residential property with the same value.

Winter stressed that corporations aren’t aiming to overwhelm the votes of citizens. “The proposal that we’re working on with government calls for business getting votes in those communities where they don’t already vote as homeowners,” he said. “So it’s not a duplicate vote.”

While the task force has opened the door to the return of the corporate vote, Antony Hodgson, president of Fair Voting B.C., noted that it has left out the matter of giving citizens new ways to select their municipal officials.

Hodgson’s group supports proportional-representation voting methods, such as the single transferable vote, as opposed to the at-large system that Vancouver and other B.C. municipalities currently use. The latter, according to him, typically produces sweeps by established civic parties in large cities.

Last month, Fair Voting B.C. and Think City, a Vancouver civic-policy think tank, asked the task force—cochaired by Minister of Community and Rural Development Bill Bennett—to hold public hearings in order to raise public awareness of the electoral changes under review.

Bennett wasn’t available to comment on whether the task force will consider public hearings. Ministry spokesperson Marika Glickman told the Straight that the task force is seeking feedback by a number of means, principally its Web site, mail, and fax.

The deadline for submissions is April 15. The province expects to bring in new legislation ahead of the 2011 municipal elections.

Meanwhile, Fair Voting B.C. and Think City are conducting an on-line survey of people’s thoughts on electoral reform. The results will be submitted for inclusion in the City of Vancouver’s feedback to the task force.

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Mar 11, 2010 at 8:12am

Now there is an idea. Let's let foreign owned corporations have influence in Canadian elections.

ursa minor

Mar 11, 2010 at 8:46am

Sorry, but the CFIB, Chamber or Commerce and the Board of Trade can't have it both ways.

Expecting a tax shift from businesses to individuals while at the same time weakening the franchise of the individual through corporate voting moves communities closer to taxation without representation.

There are other organizations that generate economic activitity within municipalities: Trade Unions, NGOs, Senior Levels of Governments, Religious Organizations - will they be allowed to vote too?


Mar 11, 2010 at 9:45am

Open it first to all the people residing and paying taxes in said city, citizen or foreigner.


Mar 11, 2010 at 2:08pm

As soon as I can write off the cost of my mortgage, taxes and all other costs from my income taxes with the ability to fire my kids so they don't cost so much when times are tough, then I'll agree to giving companies the vote. Then we'd have a level playing field. Corporations may be legal entities, but as Joel Bachan has pointed out in "The Corporation," they aren't citizens, and if they are people, they are psychopaths with no regard for their fellow "citizens" except if it serves their corporate interests. No votes for companies, full stop. Governments should be "of the people" in a democracy, not of the corporation as all too often now it already is. If anything, we should be pushing them out of government decision making, not increasing their influence.

Lisa Schwabe.

Mar 13, 2010 at 8:21pm

I definitely do NOT support this proposal

Kent Clark

Mar 14, 2010 at 12:53am

So if I am reading this right, the BC Liberals are looking at changing municipal voting laws, but not provincial voting laws, in order to give the neo-liberal vote more weight?

Sounds like some one is bitter about Vision Vancouver getting in.


Mar 15, 2010 at 3:21pm

Well of course you pay more taxes on a commercial property. You're making money while in that property. As a residential owner I am not allowed in many circumstances to run a business from my home. Would you like that same rule also?
Of course not.
We all pay taxes in some form or another. Should we get a voting coupon good for so many votes every time we pay any sort of tax.
As a citizen you should get one vote and that is it, period.


Mar 17, 2010 at 6:04pm

If corporations would like exactly equal political influence to any other taxpaying citizen, I think an agreement could be made.


Mar 27, 2010 at 4:25pm

ONE PERSON ONE VOTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Corporations are made up of many people and each one has one vote so why would you want a corporate vote????? Sounds like another cash grab idea by Gordon Campbell and his Libers.


Mar 28, 2010 at 5:49pm

So how many companies can one person own and do you get to vote for each company. I've owned two at a time would this give me three votes. Demockery at work. What's next, maybe they could adopt children so they will have a cheap labour force.