Yesterday I rose in the house to give my qualified support to Bill 20. While this bill is part of a two-step process to reform municipal elections financing, many, including me, wished that it had also brought in donation limits prior to the 2014 municipal elections. Just prior to me speaking, Linda Reimer, MLA for Port Moody-Coquitlam and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development spoke. She noted:
All of the [Local Government Elections] task force recommendations are being implemented in this legislation, with the exception of those expense limits. They will be addressed in the second phase and implemented for the 2018 local elections. Expense limits set a maximum amount of money that candidates, elector organizations and third-party advertisers in local elections can spend on election campaigns.
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. 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.
The first phase is the legislation that we introduced already. The legislation, as I said previously, represents the most significant reforms to local government in more than 20 years. And of course, the second phase will be our expense limits.
Below is the text of my speech. Please note that I believe it would be in everyone’s interest i government brought in financing limits this years fall sitting (if it is after the municipal election) or, at latest, spring 2015.
I rise to offer a few initial comments on Bill 20 with a wicked cold. I would much rather be in bed today, but I felt this was an important bill to speak to as we move to municipal elections this fall.
I recognize that the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act makes many needed changes in our local elections system. I was very happy to see that the legislation included further clarity around disclosure requirements and third-party advertising sponsorship. The added authority to Elections B.C. is also a welcome step in improving our democracy.
One noticeable absence in this bill, as alluded to by a number of previous speakers, is reform to the municipal spending limit for municipal elections. Now, I recognize the arguments put forward by the previous member with respect to the fact that the committee did not make recommendations on specific amounts, but the reality is that this is what people want. It’s been an ongoing issue for many years, and my main critique of this legislation before us today is that such spending limits are not included.
The government has had many opportunities since the Local Government Elections Task Force introduced its recommendations for improving local democracy in 2010, yet it still has not acted to limit campaign expenses.
Here’s a specific example. If we look at the numbers from Vancouver’s 2011 election, we see that Vancouver’s mainstream municipal parties collectively spent $5 million. That’s roughly $12 for every eligible voter. Now, compare that with Montreal, where candidates can spend 30 cents per voter, or Toronto, where candidates can spend 85 cents per voter. I think it’s pretty clear the difference — an order of magnitude difference.
It’s important that we take steps to limit the extent to which money can currently impact our municipal election results. Just as in the provincial system, in municipal elections people vote, not unions or business. It’s really time that we follow the lead that was set by our federal government in terms of putting campaign limits and also banning the donations from union and business interests — vested interests, I might add.
Because whose interests are ultimately served? Is it the voter, or is it the person with the biggest paycheque? Sometimes it seems to me that it’s the person with the biggest paycheque, and if that biggest paycheque is unbounded, the person with the biggest paycheque is the wealthiest person.
It’s particularly important in the context of this newly proposed four-year municipal election cycle. Some have argued that extending the term lengths for elected officials without introducing spending limits further tilts the balance of power in favour of those who can spend the most. While there certainly are merits for elected officials having a longer term in office — I support that — it’s perhaps unfortunate that this proposed extension comes at a time when one of the largest issues facing local government elections is campaign spending.
Of course, I want to recognize that it would have been impractical and even somewhat unfair to introduce legislation that would change campaign spending protocol during an election year, but I come back to the fact that the government has had quite some time to actually develop this legislation.
That being said, the people of British Columbia need some certainty that this government intends to follow through with its promise and cap election spending before the next local election. To that effect, I am pleased to hear the speech by the previous member. The previous member spoke to the fact that this would, in fact, be the case.
The government has had a number of years since the task force recommendation. It’s time to act expediently to bring these changes forward. I look forward to hearing from the government regarding the timeline for bringing in these reforms and will withhold further comments until the committee stage.
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