Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson battles with opposition in question period, B.C. legislature, November 2017. (Hansard TV)

B.C. VIEWS: Big money and local elections

Slates discouraged in civic politics, unions get green light

Bold new reforms have swept away “big money” from local politics, restoring grassroots democracy for next fall’s province-wide elections for municipal councils, school boards and regional districts.

That’s what the B.C. NDP government wants you to believe, anyway, as their amendments to municipal and school board election laws take effect this week. Donations from corporations and unions are banned, and everyone is limited to a maximum $1,200 per year donation to any candidate or slate of candidates.

In terms of the direct writing of cheques from property developers and unions to their favourite candidates, this is certainly a welcome step. The B.C. Liberal government started in 2016 with spending limits, and the NDP has taken it to the next level.

The changes were made retroactive to Halloween, so big municipal machines like Vision Vancouver and Surrey First had one brief window to pile up donations for the 2018 election. We won’t know until after the 2018 vote how they did on that, but that problem applies mostly to the dozen or so cities where electoral organizations have been formed.

As with many things in B.C., there is an urban scene and an entirely separate reality for smaller communities, particularly those “beyond Hope.” NDP governments tend to develop rules that work for urban regions and show little understanding of the rest of B.C. The Agricultural Land Reserve is an example of this, and these local election changes are another.

The B.C. Liberals pushed to raise the individual contribution limit from $1,200 to $5,000, but that was defeated by the NDP-Green coalition. The opposition argued that most municipal candidates don’t even do fundraising, they simply finance their own campaigns, and $1,200 doesn’t go far for advertising in even a medium-sized community.

The NDP government isn’t going to force taxpayers to finance the campaigns of people they don’t support, as they are doing at the provincial level with a per-vote subsidy. They’re also not interested in extending tax credits to people who donate to local election campaigns.

Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson gave a curt response to this when the changes were introduced in October. Local governments have never had any public subsidy or tax credit, so that’s why they don’t now.

The real reason is that federal and provincial political parties don’t want to share the small pool of citizens who are actually willing to donate to any politician. This becomes critically important with corporate and union donations prohibited at all levels.

Banning union donations isn’t as simple as it sounds. Take New Westminster (please). In their last election, the hard-left New Westminster and District Labour Council ran the table, with their endorsed candidates taking every spot on council and a majority on the school board.

This isn’t a slate, as such. It’s the municipal staff, school board staff and teacher union locals picking who they would like to negotiate their next contract with. Given the low turnout of municipal elections and even lower public interest in school boards, it’s often enough. And since government only grows at every level in Canada, it’s getting stronger.

Coupled with provincial unions not only financing union-friendly candidates, but giving paid leave or vacation to employees to work on phone banks and voter databases, this is the biggest conflict of interest in B.C. politics today.

Robinson insists that unions and other groups can’t do surveys or canvass voters and share the results with a candidate, unless they register with Elections B.C. and declare these expenditures. We’ll see how that works next fall.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

UPDATE: Dog poisoned on run near Kitchener

“She just dropped,” Stolz said. “Her back leg seized in mid-run and she collapsed.”

Police week includes dispute over dogs

Creston RCMP responded to 63 calls for service from April 16-22, including… Continue reading

The Nest offers a warm welcome

For Judy and Calvin Germann, retirement means slowing down, not stopping. Calvin,… Continue reading

Cannabis store offers sneak preview

With Town of Creston bylaws and approvals now in place, the opening… Continue reading

VIDEO: ‘Alarm bells’ raised by footage allegedly from B.C. pig farm, SPCA says

PETA released video Wednesday showing dead and injured piglets next to nursing piglets

‘B.C. cannot wait for action’: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

Dr. Bonnie Henry says current approach in ‘war on drugs’ has criminalized and stigmatized drug users

Many teens don’t know they’re vaping nicotine, Health Canada finds

Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey finds youth unaware of nicotine product risk

B.C.’s largest Vaisakhi festival target of threatening Facebook post: Surrey RCMP

Police say they are investigating the posts on Facebook, after local MLA forwarded screenshots

Murder on B.C. property didn’t need to be disclosed before sale, court rules

Buyer had tried to break contract after learning a man with ties to crime had been murdered there

Tofino beckons Trudeau for quiet Easter vacation

Environmental group hopes latest Pacific Rim vacation inspires change in prime minister

B.C. man turned to dating site for pimp operation, court hears

In court the details of how Simon Rypiak lured 4 women into prostitution revealed

Should B.C. parents receive money if they make sure their kids are vaccinated?

New survey looks at public opinion around government’s role in forcing immunizations

Defence accuses officer of ‘incompetence’ in trial for B.C. man charged with daughters’ murders

Double murder trial for the Victoria father accused of killing his two young daughters continues

Most Read