Vancouver City Council has been asking the BC Government repeatedly to let Vancouver set its own election finance rules. Council has talked about this a lot, but neither Council nor the ruling Vision Vancouver party has publicly made any clear and irrevocable commitment in writing for its own citizens on exactly what it would do if given the power. We think it could be dangerous for the provincial government to let Vancouver set its own rules, especially with one political party — funded mostly by corporations and unions (Vision Vancouver) — having absolute power to control the outcome. Political contributions, as we see it, are the most defining factor in Vancouver policies and politics. The millions of dollars in corporate and union donations to the two leading parties (Vision, and NPA) are not simply for charity. They are given with expectation of some return, some payback.
Here are some points we at CityHallWatch believe need to be taken to reform political financing in Vancouver, and we believe they should be imposed by the provincial government, not left in the hands of Vision Vancouver.
This is urgent business for the new NDP/Green coalition government as the next civic elections province-wide are set for October 20, 2018. Rules need to be put in place quickly. There is no reason for delay. Note that current rules impose no donation or spending limits for the upcoming byelection in September, triggered by the resignation of Vision Vancouver Councillor Geoff Meggs to become the NDP’s Chief of Staff (a highly partisan position at the provincial level).
In contrast to nearly all other municipalities in BC, Vancouver’s political landscape features local political parties (called “Elector Organizations” or EOs), so any changes must address this fact. Under existing B.C. legislation, we calculate that Vancouver political parties will be able to spend just under $3 million in the official 28-day election period in 2018 if they run full slates. It is important to note that prior to the official election period there is absolutely no limit on their election spending. The current B.C. legislation that has ‘spending limits’ will only apply to the fall 2018 municipal elections; as we stated, there are no spending limits for a byelection in 2017.
We believe the BC provincial government could and should move on finance reform for Vancouver immediately, by amending the Vancouver Charter. There’s an opportunity to do what the NDP government did in Alberta: make election finance reform the first item of business.
INTENSIVE AND MASSIVE PUBLIC PRESSURE NOW NEEDED
If readers agree that this is a top priority, consider contacting your MLA to communicate your opinion. We recommend a massive and intensive call-in efforts from Monday July 10 until the swearing-in on July 18. Extra pressure is now going to be needed, as Vision’s Geoff Meggs has now been named the NDP Chief-of-Staff. He and his now-former civic party have been on the receiving end of political and especially union donations for years, and we suspect Meggs may now try to maneuver things internally to block or circumvent serious election finance reforms. The people to speak strongly need to counter that. The Green Party in the provincial coalition needs to watch out for this and push through without relenting!
While it is obviously of utmost importance to ban corporate and union donations from civic politics and to limit donation amounts, is what we really need in Vancouver:
- Limit spending for the entire election year (not just a 28-day campaign period)
- Limit spending for Elector Organizations (for example, set the limit to twice the maximum Councillor limit when you have 2 or more candidates)
- Limit spending in non-election years as well (by Elector Organizations and candidates)
- Require annual disclosure of contributions
Here are these points again, in more detail:
Reform municipal election financing in Vancouver
- Ban corporate and union donations outright
- Limit contribution amount per individual per year (set maximum limits per Elector Organization (total of all candidates in Elector Organizations); also set a maximum amount that one person can contribute to all candidates/Elector Organizations combined)
- (a) Limit maximum spending by Elector Organizations: Set at up to twice the Councillor candidate limit (cumulative until twice the candidate limit is reached; that’s a limit of about $210,000 in Vancouver)
(b) Enforce the Elector Organization spending limit in the entire area (prohibit having a couple of EOs with similar names, one for school board and another for council to be counted as separate EOs with separate limits)
- Set spending limit totals for the entire election calendar year, not just the 28 day “campaign period” (so the limits apply for the entire year)
- Limit Elector Organization and candidate spending in non-election years (set to a maximum $105,000 or Councillor limit for Elector Organizations, or half the Councillor limit for independent candidates)
- Require timely annual disclosure of donors for EOs in non-election years
For additional background, Council has discuss election finance reform a number of times. A motion by Green Councillor Adriane Carr could have had a major impact on election finance in Vancouver, but it was buried by a counter-motion by Vision Vancouver Councillor Andrea Reimer.
Council Motion July 21 (could have transformed) Vancouver politics: Ban corporate/union donations, limit dollar amounts, require continuous reporting. Buried by Clr. Andrea Reimer. (posted July 17, 2015)