An epic battle was fought on two fronts yesterday for the very foundations of our society and civic democratic systems. The critical issue is who pays for civic election campaign, and how much they can pay. While the world was distracted with other things, these twin dramas unfolded in B.C. Legislature and Vancouver City Council. Citizens who care, please contact your MLA and Vancouver City Council to tell them what you think of all this. Debate continues today in Legislature at 10 am.
Proposing an amendment to the draft Local Elections Campaign Financing Act (Bill 20), MLA Vicki Huntington almost changed B.C. history. Her proposal to delete just two words (“an organization”) from the text would have effectively banned corporate and union donations in municipal elections. Her justification:
There comes a time, and perhaps the time is now, when we have to stand up and say: “Look, the people are extremely concerned. We have a problem here. There is a perception that we are not serving the people, that we are serving other interests, and we have to stop that perception. We have to stop it in its tracks, and we have to protect the very nature of the democratic institution that we all operate within.” I strongly believe that the banning of corporate and union donations, restricting political donations to the individual voter, is the only way we can do that and the only way we can restore a democratic trust in our institutions.
MLA Vicki Huntington, BC Legislature, April 30, 2014.
Huntington’s amendment was rejected 42 (BC Liberals) to 28 (Independent, NDP, Green Party). The Hansard draft transcript (about 8,500 words) from yesterday’s debate in the Legislative committee is available here.
This debate is full of many information gems and revealing statements. The clear heros of democracy are MLAs Vicki Huntington, Green Party Andrew Weaver, and the BC NDP led by opposition critic for local government Selina Robinson.
Meanwhile, in Vancouver City Council, Vision Vancouver and the NPA spoke with one voice to oppose a critical motion by the sole Vancouver Green Party councillor (Vancouver council rejects voluntary campaign spending limits, Yolande Cole, Georgia Straight, online, 30-Apr-2014). She was calling for creation of an all-party committee to discuss limits on election donations and expenditures and a ban on corporate and union donations. Vision and NPA councillors referred to the motion as “frightening” and “dangerous.” Perhaps rightly so, considering they were incumbents who would have to fight on a fairer playing field of ideas and policies. (It was telling that at an all-candidates’ meeting in Vancouver’s West End in November 2011, home to a population of 45,000 people, not a single candidate from Vision Vancouver deigned to show up or even send regrets for being absent. The entire Vision team was actually busy, just a few blocks away, at the Westin Bayshore Hotel at a glitzy fundraiser. With a fair playing field, they might have had to answer to the public.)
Scanning the media today, it appears that reporters and editors of the mainstream media felt that none of this stuff merited a single line of text, except for the Georgia Straight. One must ask if they are doing their job to serve society by providing critical information to the public in a timely way. Over time, the significance of the media blindspot may become clearer.
It seems clear that the winners on April 30, 2014, were corporations and unions who donate millions of dollars to provincial and civic politicians and political parties, and those politicians and parties who receive that money in expensive elections. The loser was society.