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.

BC legislatureMunicipal election

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

In 2019, roughly one person died every three days in Surrey due to illicit drug overdoses

123 people died in the city in 2019, down from the previous year

BC Liberals firing at NDP due to fact new Surrey hospital not in budget

But Surrey-Panorama MLA Jinny Sims says business case is needed first

United Nations designates Surrey a ‘Tree City’

Surrey is one of 59 cities in the world to receive the designation

White Rock seeks assistance for park rain damage

City applies for provincial funding following closure of Ruth Johnson Park and ravine

Surrey RCMP looking for missing boy, age 14

Brayden Ritchat, 14, last seen in the 10800-block of 141st Street in Whalley on Feb. 21

Protecting privacy key to stopping spread of COVID-19, B.C. health officials say

The number of coronavirus cases in B.C. remains at seven

Toffoli scores OT winner as Canucks beat Habs 4-3

Demko makes 37 saves for Vancouver

Private clinics would harm ‘ordinary’ people using public system in B.C.: lawyer

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced in 2018 that the government would begin to fine doctors $10,000

B.C. terminates contract with hospice society refusing assisted death

Delta Hospice Society loses hospital service fund of $1.5 million

Child in hospital following fatal crash that killed father, sibling on B.C. highway

The single vehicle crash occured near Kamloops on Highway 5A

‘Die!’: Vernon councillor mailed death threat

This story contains information that might be sensitive to some readers

B.C. landlord can’t serve eviction notice because tenant is in jail

Homeowner baffled at arbitrator decision based on notice of hearing not being served properly

Hidden message connects Castlegar homeowners decades apart

The Rodgers family was surprised when a message fell out of the walls as they were renovating

Most Read