Today in the legislature I rose at second reading to speak to Bill 17 — Local elections Campaign Financing (Election Expenses) Amendment Act, 2016. The purposed of this bill is to enable expense limits for local government elections, although the actual expense limits are left to regulations.
As you will see in the text and video of my speech (reproduced below), there are both positive and negative aspects of this bill. The fact that fixed spending limits during the campaign period are being introduced is a very good thing in my view. Unfortunately, union and corporate donations still are not being banned. Unfortunately, there is still no single contribution limit. And unfortunately, there will be a free-for-all period outside of the 28 day campaign period where restrictions on spending will not exist.
I have an amendment on the order papers to extend the 28-day campaign period and my colleague, Vicki Huntington from Delta South has proposed an amendment that effectively bans union and corporate donations.
A. Weaver: I rise to speak at second reading to Bill 17, Local Elections Campaign Financing (Election Expenses) Amendment Act, 2016.
This bill is being brought forward as the second in two bills with respect to local elections campaign financing and reform. This second bill is a result of…. It has been brought together based on recommendations from the Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits, a committee that extensively consulted with numerous stakeholders with respect to local elections campaign financing.
Now, as we all know, consultation is a very important component of building social licence for any bill. But consultation is more than listening. It’s about reacting to that which you’ve been told in a way that reflects what you’ve been told. While much of this bill has done that, there are some glaring omissions, which I’ll come to shortly. The omissions are respect to the continued allowance of corporate and union donors, as well as the fact that there are no caps on the magnitude of individual donations. And the reduction of the campaign period to 28 days thereby allows, essentially, free-for-all spending by any person, any corporation or any union for anyone prior to the campaign period.
With that said, there are, as in all bills, some key points that I support and some other key points that I have some troubles with. Let’s first start with the summary of aspects of this bills that I can support — aspects of this bill that were done extensively through consultation and research as to what’s happening in other jurisdictions.
First and foremost, while the recommendations from the committee are consistent with the recommendations that government stated it would do in the fall, we are being asked to trust government, because everything is put in regulations.
Now, this is becoming a bit of a pattern with this government. We have some enabling legislation which, essentially, kicks the can down the road so that regulations can be put in place that we’re not actually able to debate here.
We’re told in the draft legislation that was released in the fall and the accompanying press release — consistent with the recommendations from the Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits — that for candidates in election areas with less than 10,000 people, the proposed expense limits established a flat rate of $10,000 for mayoral candidates and $5,000 for all other locally elected offices. For election areas with more than 10,000 people, a per-capita formula determines expense limits.
Expense limits for candidates in electoral organizations would apply from January 1 of the election year to the election day, the third Saturday of October. I’ll come back to that.
Proposed expense limits for third-party advertising sponsors would be 5 percent of the expense limit of a candidate in the local election area, with a cumulative provincewide maximum of $150,000, applicable during a 28-day campaign period.
For elections with more than 10,000 people, mayoral candidates would have an expense limit that’s graduated — a dollar per capita for the first 15,000, 55 cents per capita for a 15,000 to 150,000 population, 60 cents per capita for a population between 150,000 and 250,000 and 15 cents per capita thereafter. For election areas with more than 10,000 people, candidates for all other locally elected offices would have an expense limit of 50 cents per capita for the first 15,000 population, 28 cents per capita for a 15,000 to 150,000 population, 30 cents per capita for a population between 150,000 and 250,000 and eight cents per capita thereafter — essentially, half the amount allowable for mayoral candidates.
Now, these numbers are justifiable — the committee that brought forward these recommendations did extensive research on what was going on in other jurisdictions — and will, in essence, eliminate, to some extent, the ability of those who have access to the greatest amount of money to necessarily win an election by blanketing airwaves, etc., with their advertising and so forth.
Again, we are being asked to trust government that, in fact, this is what will happen through regulations. It’s not clear to me that this government continues to earn our trust in light of the fact and the preponderance of promises and other things that we’ve been told over the years — that we should trust them, that they will take care of. Trust them about LNG — still waiting. Trust them about this. Trust them about that. I wait to see these regulations and certainly hope that they roll out in accordance with the guidelines that have been given to us already.
There are a number of aspects — again, coming back to some of the things that I believe are steps forward — that are good steps forward. For example, there’s an elimination on social media — a ban on tweets, Internet communications, Facebook, etc. — on election day, provided it solely encourages people to vote. I think that’s a good change. It’s essentially recognizing modern-day forms of communication, and it’s timely that we introduce this here.
The fact that expense limits are being introduced, overall, is a good change. Again, we’re kicking it down to the regulations and hoping that at some point these regulations will address the concerns expressed by people through the consultations with the special committee on local election finance expense limits.
Let’s come back to the two big failings of this bill, the lost opportunities within this bill. It’s a continued lost opportunity extending from the previous version of the local election campaign financing bill that we discussed a while back here in the Legislature. It is the continued ability for unions and corporations to influence the outcomes of elections through essentially unmitigated campaign donation limits that can be as high as anybody wants.
Unions don’t vote. Corporations don’t vote. People vote. It is the people who vote to put people into this Legislature, who put people into local governments, who put people into local school boards, who put people in Ottawa in the federal government. Yet we are being asked here, once again, to approve a bill that allows unions and corporations to determine who is in local government.
Now, I know that the official opposition supports the notion of not allowing union and corporate donations, both provincially and in local government elections, but we continue to allow this to happen. What’s so troubling about this is you’re then left with the question: whose interests are being represented?
My very favourite example of this is the incident that happened at Mount Polley. Now, when we look at Mount Polley, we recognize that there was a potential for a lot bigger problem than actually occurred. Still, it was certainly a big enough issue to cause local environmental concern, and we still don’t know if there are long-term ramifications from the pond tailings breach.
Part of the problem with the communication is this. When we look at the owner of that company that’s running Mount Polley, we recognize that they’re substantive donors to the B.C. Liberals. Then, on the other hand, when we look at the union that represents the workers who work at Mount Polley, the United Steelworkers, they’re substantial donors to the B.C. NDP. So the public, the people of B.C., can wonder whose interests are being represented. Is it their interests? Is it the interests of the workers at the mine? Is it the interests of the corporation at the mine?
I’m not suggesting that there was undue influence arising from this, but there’s a perception that is very, very difficult to move away from. When big donors to both sides of this House come from both sides of an issue, we have to question whose interests are being represented.
Now, in the case of local government, the same thing can happen. Let’s take an example of something that’s been in the news quite a lot of late, the Trans Mountain Pipeline proposal. We know that there are certain individuals, certain corporations, who would be more predisposed to see that go through, and there are others who might not. You might find, for example, a corporation that wants this proposal to go through and decides to fund a bunch of candidates with a huge amount of money prior to 28 days before the election. You might find, for example, another corporation might decide that they don’t want this and fund the other candidates. I suspect that the other candidates would get far less than the first candidates. But then we have a battle of election with money influencing the political discourse, not in the interests of the people but in the interests of the stakeholders of a project, and this is wrong.
This is absolutely wrong and points to the real problem in our democracy in British Columbia: we have a government that no longer represents the people. We have a government that puts its corporate friends first and thinks about the people second — whether that be resident hunters, as I look at the minister over there, whether it be the people in Shawnigan Lake, as I look at the minister over there. Regardless of the issue, this is a government that’s putting vested corporate interests first, people second.
What it’s saying, through this missed opportunity, to our local elections, to school board elections, is that we are encouraging you to do the same.
Why is it that in B.C. we allow the B.C. Teachers Federation to donate to the campaigns of trustees? This should not be allowed because school trustees are there to look out for the public good. They’re not there to impose the will of the BCTF. It should not be allowed, but it is allowed under this legislation. We should not allow an oil company to be able to influence school board elections through campaigning, but it is allowed under here. Why are we doing this?
Our democracy is broken, and this government is missing out an opportunity to fix it. One of the things you’ll see in the order papers, is that I proposed an amendment. This amendment is to actually address one of the recommendations of the local elections committee, which says as follows. On page 33 of this document, under the “Elections proceedings period,” it states this:
“The committee received notice from government late in the process of its work of a proposed change to the local elections campaign period from 46 days to 28 days. Committee members expressed concern that the 2014 expenditure data included all spending from January 1 until election day and, therefore, the committee’s recommendations were based on the analysis of a longer campaign period.
“One concern is that candidates may make purchases of election materials such as flyers or advertising materials and use these materials prior to a 28-day period and not have this captured as an expense. Committee members agreed that in order for expense limits to be effective, they must apply to all campaign spending.”
They concluded that the local expense limits, recommended by the committee for electoral organizations and candidates, should apply from January 1 of the election year to election day.
I heard from members opposite that they consulted. Indeed they did, but coming back to my first point: consultation is not just sitting and listening; it’s about reacting to what you heard in a manner that’s consistent to what you heard and that puts all together the various issues that are raised before you.
This is a very specific recommendation from a committee — very specific — yet it is ignored. I just do not understand why it is ignored. Why would government ignore this? Why would it ignore its own committee that it has majority vote on? Why would it do that? I don’t know. I’m certainly hoping we will get more information on this as we move forward.
In summary, while it’s long overdue for us to reform our electoral financing expenses in British Columbia and while there are aspects of this bill that of course I can support, this is a lost opportunity.
It continues to allow corporations and unions to donate. I do recognize the member for Delta South has introduced a rather innovative amendment at committee stage.
Two, it doesn’t preclude somebody from funding an entire campaign for an individual. You could have, say, the city of Vancouver — one group funded almost entirely by one individual. That still could happen.
Three, it allows people to avoid campaign spending limits because of the short 28-day campaign period time that was introduced, despite the recommendation of the committee.
Four, this bill is asking us, once more, to trust the government. “Trust us that we will introduce regulations, because we know what’s best for you.” We don’t see the information here in the bill. It’s kicked down the road for some time in the future.
Frankly, I no longer trust this government. British Columbians no longer trust this government. I would have preferred to see these numbers actually in the legislation so that we know what we’re voting for, instead of giving them carte blanche to continue to do what they’re doing, to put their corporate interests ahead of the interests of British Columbians.