NDP MLAs described B.C. municipal campaigns as “the Wild West” of elections during a debate today that included repeated criticism of the absence of spending limits in the government’s Local Elections Campaign Finance Act.
During second reading of Bill 20 in the B.C. legislature, Vancouver-Point Grey MLA David Eby noted that Vancouver city council has asked the province repeatedly since 2005 for the ability to regulate campaign contributions and implement spending limits for local elections.
“They have asked this government six times for this authority to regulate these kinds of donations, and still this government doesn't act,” Eby stated. “Still we see legislation coming forward that doesn't address this issue.
“It is a shame. And frankly, as we go into yet another election without any rules, it is an outrage to the people of the city of Vancouver that they are living in essentially the autobahn of elections, where there are no rules...There are no donation limits.”
Other Vancouver MLAs including Spencer Chandra Herbert, Shane Simpson and George Heyman also called for increased electoral reform measures during today’s debate, such as banning corporate and union donations from local elections.
“The question is: who votes? People do. Do corporations vote? No. Do unions vote? No. People do,” said Chandra Herbert.
“That's who democracy is supposed to be about. It's supposed to be about from the bottom up. It's not supposed to be about one person having more might, more fire power, the ability to hire hundreds and hundreds of people in support of their political goal, to be able to overrun the interests of the citizens.”
Measures in the government’s proposed legislation include requiring candidates to file campaign finance disclosure statements within 90 days instead of 120 days, ensuring candidate campaign disclosures are published online, and requiring third-party advertising sponsors to register with Elections B.C.
Under Bill 21, the Local Elections Statutes Amendment Act, B.C. is proposing to extend the municipal elections cycle to every four years, beginning this November
Linda Reimer, parliamentary secretary to Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Coralee Oakes, told the legislature that campaign expense limits will be implemented for the 2018 local elections.
“The Local Government Elections Task Force recommended that expense limits be established in local government elections but didn't recommend what the limits should be,” she said.
“We fully intend to put in place expense limits, but we felt it would not be appropriate to add expense limits to the mix of the significant reforms that we already have in place in an election year. UBCM supports this two-phased approach.”
Reimer added that the B.C. task force on local government elections recommended spending limits but not donation limits.
“Unlike contribution limits, expense limits reduce the need for large contributions yet they do not limit democratic participation,” she said. “Candidates need to be accountable for the contributions that they accept.”
Green MLA Andrew Weaver also called for municipal spending limits in local elections during today’s debate, noting that Vancouver’s mainstream municipal parties collectively spent $5 million during the 2011 civic election.