Stinky business on Vancouver’s election finance reforms. “Independent” election committee proposal in Council Jan 20 (Wed): A saga of delays.

City Hall at night(Updated) A staff report back on the establishment of an “independent” City of Vancouver Election Task Force is agenda item #5 on Council’s agenda for Wednesday, January 20th (starts 9:30 am). This report is in response to discussions related to the Review of the 2014 City of Vancouver Civic Election discussed in Council on February 3, 2015.

While the staff report for today’s Council meeting is dated November 16, 2015, it is being discussed over two months later in Council. It’s worth noting that Councillor Adriane Carr introduced a motion on July 17, 2015 that could have dealt swiftly with the pressing issue of election finance reform in the City of Vancouver. The proposed moves would have included bans on corporate & union contributions and limits on the amounts of donations permitted. It could have been implemented immediately. Speakers had signed up to share their thoughts on the motion at that time, but Council did not hear them as the Council majority voted (as proposed by Councillor Andrea Reimer) to bury this election finance motion by referring it to the “independent committee”. Curiously, the new staff report makes no mention of Carr’s motion. Reimer at the time stated that a committee was working on the matter, but CityHallWatch has investigated with the clerk’s office and found that what she said was an outright, ahem, departure from the truth. The committee she referred to did not exist.

With today’s motion, by Councillor Reimer, the majority on the nomination sub-committee will screen the 9 to 11 people who are chosen to serve on the “independent committee”. The nomination sub-committee is made up of Andrea Reimer, Tim Stevenson and Elizabeth Ball. The Committee will need to report by December 2016. There appears to be no requirement in the Terms of References (reproduced further below) for the residents of the City of Vancouver to be consulted during this process. There is only a mention of reaching “past candidates and election organizations” for comment.

If the report recommendations are accepted by the Council majority, there will almost certainly be another year of inaction on moves for election finance reform in Vancouver.

Some of the political parties accept large contributions in the years between elections. The party with the majority on Council, Vision Vancouver, ran up a debt of $400,000 after spending a record $3.4 million during the 2014 election. The party did not reveal how the election debt was paid off in 2015, although Vision did file supplementary reports in 2007 and 2010. At the time, it was required by law. But the B.C. government changed the legislation in 2014, eliminating the requirement for civic parties to publicly report the contributions they receive in the years between elections that were used to pay down election debts. Mayor Gregor Robertson secretly and successfully advocated for the shift to a four year election cycle (see below), though there had been no public discussion at City Hall for that shift. So the result is that for three years out of the four-year election cycle, the public cannot receive any information on who is paying the big money to the civic political party.

Vision Vancouver receives a significant amount of donations annually. Apparently in 2013 a total of $557,000 was spent by the party on running their office, as revealed in a tweet from reporter Jeff Lee:

Jeff Lee tweet Vision 2013 Office

While the independent committee looks at issues related to Vancouver elections, it’s also worth recalling that it was Mayor Robertson who asked for 4-year municipal terms. This is recorded in the Hansard from May 1, 2014:

4year term Robertson

References:
Agenda, Wednesday, January 20, 2016: http://council.vancouver.ca/20160120/pspc20160120ag.htm

Municipal Election – Report Back on Independent Election Task Force

Council Motion July 21 (could have transformed) Vancouver politics: Ban corporate/union donations, limit dollar amounts, require continuous reporting. Buried by Clr. Andrea Reimer (CityHallWatch, July 2015)

Reproduced below is the text of the report:

ADMINISTRATIVE REPORT

Report Date: November 16, 2015
Contact: Janice MacKenzie
Contact No.: [phone number]
RTS No.: 11157
VanRIMS No.: 08-2000-20
Meeting Date: January 20, 2016
 TO: Standing Committee on Policy and Strategic Priorities
FROM:City Clerk
SUBJECT: Municipal Election – Report Back on Independent Election Task Force
RECOMMENDATION
A. THAT Council establish the City of Vancouver Election Task Force (“Task Force”) for the purpose of developing a strategy and work plan to assist the City in advancing Council-approved reforms to the governing of the municipal election process in Vancouver.
B. THAT Council approve the terms of reference for that Task Force as set out in the report dated November 16, 2015, entitled “Municipal Election – Report Back on Independent Election Task Force”.
REPORT SUMMARY
The purpose of this report is to obtain Council approval of the establishment of an independent Election Task Force and its terms of reference – including the composition of the Task Force.
COUNCIL AUTHORITY/PREVIOUS DECISIONS
At its Regular Council meeting on February 3, 2015 Council directed staff to provide recommendations to Council on the membership and terms of reference for an independent committee. Council also specified a broad mandate for that committee.
CITY MANAGER’S/GENERAL MANAGER’S COMMENTS
The Acting City Manager recommends approval of the foregoing.
REPORT
Background/Context
At its Regular Council meeting on February 3, 2015, Council directed staff to provide recommendations to Council on the membership and terms of reference for an independent committee with a broad mandate to:
(i) survey candidates and parties as to their experience in the election;
(ii) review whether the allocation of resources from Council is sufficient to meet expectations in an election; and
(iii) create a plan for advancing previous Council directives to staff regarding electoral procedures including:
(a) Request to Province for ability to implement campaign finance reforms including limits to contributions and a ban on corporate and union donations;
(b) Request to Province for ability to use proportional voting systems;
(c) Request to Province to make anonymous balloting data available in open data format after an election;
(d) Request to Province to conduct an online voting pilot; and
(e) The priority actions from the Engaged City Task Force and the Healthy City Strategy **The Engaged City Task Force and Healthy City Strategy priority action items include:
• Increasing the number of “positive cues” to encourage voting;
• Targeting voter registration;
• Investigating the extension of voting rights to permanent residents;
• Using the election ballot to get feedback on voter satisfaction with the current voting system;
• Taking action on campaign finance reform; and
• Increasing municipal voter turnout to at least 60 per cent by 2025.Strategic Analysis
Local government elections in British Columbia are governed by the Local Government Act and the parallel provisions in the Vancouver Charter. Under the Vancouver Charter and School Act, these rules also apply to the Vancouver Park Board and School Board elections. The rules for conducting municipal elections are controlled by the Province.In June 2014, the Province implemented new legislation called the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act. This legislation represented Phase 1 of campaign finance reform in BC local elections. The changes were significant and focused on improving accountability, transparency, compliance, and enforcement.Phase 2 of the reforms is expected to be implemented prior to the next municipal election on October 20, 2018. On October 22, 2015, the BC Government introduced Bill 43, the “Local Elections Campaign Financing (Expense Limits) Amendment Act 2015 (LECFA 2015). The public was invited to provide feedback on LECFA 2015. The feedback period has since closed.Staff have begun planning for the 2018 election and this work will intensify beginning in September 2017. In November 2017, staff expect to begin implementing the election plan developed for the 2018 municipal election.
It is important that any changes to the governing provincial legislation become law by November 2017 in order that the changes can be addressed by City staff as the 2018 election plan is finalized. This is particularly important if the Province agrees to allow municipalities to use a proportional voting system and/or allow the City of Vancouver to conduct an online voting pilot.Staff propose the following terms of reference for the independent committee:Terms of Reference – City of Vancouver Election Task Force

The purpose of the Task Force is to recommend changes to Council concerning the delivery of municipal elections in the city of Vancouver that will lead to improved public confidence in the electoral processes at the municipal level and increase voter engagement – with a key goal being to increase voter turnout to at least 60 per cent by 2025.

The Task Force is directed to produce a final report for consideration by Council not later than December 2016. The scope of the Task Force’s work will include:

a. Reviewing the existing legislation that governs municipal elections in the Province of BC with particular emphasis on legislation governing the Vancouver municipal election;
b. Surveying a representative sample of past candidates and election organizations to obtain their input regarding possible changes to the existing legislative framework for the conduct of municipal elections in Vancouver – including those changes previously approved by Council;
c. Conducting a literature review and research concerning election best practices that have been implemented either nationally or internationally and have resulted in an increase in public confidence and voter engagement;
d. Reviewing the previously approved Council directives to staff and determining/ confirming which of the directives should be pursued on a priority basis as they contribute to the key goal of improving public confidence and increasing voter engagement;
e. Identifying other changes to the delivery of the municipal election in Vancouver that will contribute to improved public confidence in the electoral processes and increased voter engagement based on their review of best practices;
f. Determining which of the Council-directed and other proposed changes can be implemented within the existing legislative structure of local government in BC, and which require legislative change in order to implement;
g. Identifying the budget implications of implementing each proposed recommendation and prioritize the recommendations; and
h. Proposing a plan for Council’s consideration regarding the implementation of the recommendations that are within Council’s ability to control and how to influence change at the provincial level.

With respect to the composition of the Task Force, staff propose the following:

1. The Task Force consist of 9-11 members who reflect the diversity of the city;
2. The criteria for membership includes:
a. Strong knowledge of the principles of democracy, effective operation of democratic institutions, and best practices regarding electoral systems and reform,
b. Experience in developing strategies and work plans and achieving success within a political environment,
c. Knowledge of the organization and operation of key provincial ministries,
d. No affiliation with a political party in the city of Vancouver for the past four elections and has not been a city of Vancouver municipal candidate in any of the past four elections;
3. The City publicly advertise for nominations using the City’s advisory committee recruitment process (e.g. online and local media) and reach out to
(a) academic institutions,
(b) non-profit organizations, and
(c) professionals that have an interest in democratic institutions and increasing public confidence in electoral processes;
4. The Nomination Sub-committee review and recommend to Council the membership of the Vancouver Electoral Task Force based on the established criteria; and
5. Council appoint the members of the Electoral Task Force.

Implications/Related Issues/Risk (if applicable)

Financial

The task at hand is large and the timeframe short, therefore to ensure that the volunteer contributions of the Task Force members are maximized and the Task Force’s work be efficiently/effectively managed, staff recommend that the services of a professional facilitator be employed. The anticipated one-time cost of these services is approximately $30,000. The source of funding is the 2016 City Clerks operating budget.

CONCLUSION

At its Regular Council meeting on February 3, 2015 Council directed staff to provide recommendations to Council on the membership and terms of reference for an independent committee. Council also specified a broad mandate for that committee.
The purpose of this report is to obtain Council approval of the establishment of an independent Election Task Force and its terms of reference – including the composition of the Task Force.

* * * * *

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s