The Wild West days of unlimited spending in municipal election campaigns are about to end.
The province is proposing election spending limits on civic government, a move which is hoped to level the playing field in local politics.
The proposed spending limits are tallied on a per-capita basis and will be in effect for the 2018 civic election.
The permitted spending amounts vary by the size of each municipality according to a population-based formula.
It works out to $10,000 for mayoral candidates in cities of up to 10,000 people, rising to $89,250 for a population of 150,000, and reaching $149,250 for a city of 250,000.
An extra 15 cents per capita is added after 250,000 for the biggest cities.
Spending by councillors, regional district directors and school trustees would be capped at half the limit of mayors in their areas.
Based on Surrey’s population, the limit would be $96,366 for a city councillor and $188,750 for mayor.
If in place for last year’s civic election, the rules would have imposed a cap on spending for all eight Surrey First councillors and mayor to $957,678.
It would have sliced about $250,000 from the spending by Surrey First in 2014, a coalition which spent $1.2 million winning all seats on council.
Mayor Linda Hepner told The Leader Friday she’s comfortable with the proposed spending limits.
She described last year’s election as a “bit of an anomaly” as it was so hotly contested.
“In my 30 years experience… it cost a little more than an ordinary general election,” Hepner said. “This last election was an expensive go-round.”
The Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, Peter Fassbender, said in a release Thursday the spending cap would increase with the cost of inflation.
“I think they’ve got this right,” said Dermod Travis, executive director for Integrity B.C., adding the sliding scale of the formula reflects the different needs of small and large communities.
“It’s unfortunate the other half of the equation is not being tackled at the same time, which would be donations. But I think they’ve found a good middle for where those caps should be on expenses.”
If the cap had been in place for last year’s election, mayoral candidate Barinder Rasode would have overspent by $123,917.
She said in an interview that due to sign damage and other incidentals, her group, One Surrey, spent more than it intended.
Nonetheless, Rasode said she welcomes the provincial move to cap election expenses.
“I think it’s really important to have election spending limits,” Rasode said.
She said the proposed legislation is a great start, but there needs to be further reforms to election conduct.
She also wants to see a ban on election signs “for sustainability reasons, but also cost reasons.”
She said the spending limits being introduced create a “level playing field” for independents and others who might not have the same access to capital.
“I’m actually really proud of the campaign we ran,” Rasode said.
Asked if she would run again in 2018, Rasode wouldn’t rule it out.
“In three years, we will be looking at a very different Surrey,” Rasode said. “That decision is not one that I have to make right now.”
Fassbender said in a news release that the spending limits were brought about by wishes of both voters and candidates.
The recommendations were developed by a special legislative committee and have support of both the B.C. Liberals and NDP, as well as the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
The expense limits would apply from Jan. 1 of the election year until voting day.
The government is expected to table the bill on local election spending in the fall sitting of the B.C. legislature and is taking public comments in a final round of consultations until Nov. 27.
– with files from Jeff Nagel