Significant issues in report from Local Elections Expense Limits Committee. No separate caps on political parties.

2014-leel-consultations-reportThe BC Legislature released its first report of the Special Committee on Local Election Expense Limits on December 15, 2014. (The outcome of this process will affect the 2018 civic elections.) The report is a disappointment.

There are in fact parts of the report that indicate that the Province is seeking no significant changes for Vancouver. Consider, for example, the following comment on local political parties (the “electoral organizations”):

“On balance, Members concluded that a middle approach of no separate additional expense limit for elector organizations was desirable for meeting the interests of communities across the province, including larger cities where elector organizations tend to have the most significant role.”

For whom is this desirable? Democratic interests? Or big money interests? The section continues and notes:

“As an additional measure to promote neutrality, the maximum an elector organization would be able to spend would be the value of the combined total of what its endorsed candidates have signed over to the elector organization.” (page 28 of 42, “Neutrality”)

Yet, the main issue is to indeed have a limit imposed on elector organization spending. In Vancouver it’s possible to run a full slate of candidates for all 27 positions (as the NPA did in 2011). Is the committee really considering allowing 27 times the maximum limit given to each candidate a “middle approach”? That’s most certainly not a middle position, but rather it’s favouring an extreme ‘status quo’ position. If a high limit is established for each candidates (for example, $75,000), and a Vancouver party runs a full slate of candidates, it would still be possible to run a $2 million plus campaign.

In the section on “Fairness”, the committee makes the following note:

Members affirmed the principle of fairness and accessibility as meaning a “level playing field” for all participants, and the concept that a participant cannot simply purchase the election by excessive spending. (page 27 of 42)

By not having a separate cap on electoral organization spending, the province could conceivably keep the door open for the continuation of multi-million dollar campaigns in large cities like Vancouver. In other words, it would allow the purchase of an election by excessive spending. Is the whole section on “Fairness” mere lip service without a serious commitment to reforms for large cities?

The determination of exact limits and formulas for local election expense limits will be examined in a second phase of the process. The final report of the committee is due by June 12, 2015, and it’s expected that further consultation will be done during this phase. The campaign disclosure forms of candidates and elector organizations in the November civic election are due by February 13, 2015. Perhaps the committee will examine the money that was spent on the last campaign and have a change in heart and see why it’s essential to put a separate cap on spending by local political parties.

Despite our disappointment so far, there are, however, a number of encouraging statements in the report. But will any of these be meaningfully implemented?

Victoria City HallOn third party advertising: “The total value of election advertising during the campaign period must not exceed $3000 in relation to a single electoral district”

On contribution limits: “The Committee heard strong support for the imposition of contribution limits, including a ban on corporate and union donations and a limit on the amount that can be donated by an individual.”

A number of elector organizations from Vancouver made oral presentations to the committee, including the Green Party, COPE, NSV, Vision Vancouver, the NPA and the Cedar Party. Other elector organizations, groups and individuals also presented (see the Minutes and Transcripts section here). Written submissions were also accepted by the committee and there was an online survey too. The report notes, “there were 916 public hearing presentations, written submissions, and online questionnaire responses.”  It remains to be seen if the province will implement the wishes of the majority of residents in its upcoming campaign finance legislation.

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