COLUMN: Election spending matters

After an expensive municipal campaign in Surrey, it's important to know who contributed to the various candidates.

Money ran like water in the 2014 Surrey civic election.

Never before has there been such an expensive election campaign.  While it is hard to come up with the total amount spent, an evening poring over campaign disclosure statements indicates that somewhere around $1.6 million was spent on the race for Surrey council.

The statements are located on Elections BC’s website, and the information there shines a new spotlight on the cost of running a campaign in a large city like Surrey. It also demonstrates just how deeply candidates depend on developers and other businesses for funds. If the campaigns had been financed solely by individuals, spending would have been about one-fifth of the actual amount spent.

Surrey First, which won every seat on council, spent by far the most – close to $1.2 million. Of that total, over $900,000 was contributed by businesses and other corporations, with another $37,664 from unions.

The two unions putting in funds were the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the International Association of Fire Fighters. Both represent city employees and have a major stake in the outcome of the election.

Business contributors were primarily developers, realtors and builders, but there was a broad spectrum of other businesses who donated to the campaign. Some were from as far away as Quebec.

The money Surrey First raised was spent on advertising (about $450,000); wages (more than $300,000) and interestingly, research and polling. This last category ate up almost $163,000 in funds.

Given that this was proclaimed as a three-way race for mayor and a fight for control of council, the high spending on polling isn’t surprising. It undoubtedly guided a great deal of some of the advertising. Surrey First spent heavily in the final week of the campaign, pulling out its not-so-secret weapon – outgoing mayor Dianne Watts, who remained very popular and clearly helped drive voters to the Surrey First candidates.

Surrey First won by a landslide, and the final push played a big role in its success. While the candidates all helped, Watts was by far the biggest name – even though she wasn’t on the ballot.

One Surrey, headed by mayoral candidate Barinder Rasode, spent more than $300,000 on its campaign. Donations came mainly from corporations and unions, although there were some significant personal donations as well.

Former mayor Doug McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition, which ran four candidates for council along with McCallum for mayor, spent much less – about $93,000. McCallum himself contributed much of its financial resources – more than $43,000.

Both the Rasode and McCallum campaigns also spent funds on research and polling, but far less than Surrey First did. Rasode spent close to $50,000 and McCallum spent just under $16,000.

It was clearly one of the most significant Surrey elections in the past 20 years. At stake was Watts’ legacy and her contributions to the city, as both McCallum and Rasode wanted to go in different directions. There were major issues, such as crime and policing, and there was significant public interest. Voter turnout, at about 35 per cent, was up as well.

The huge amount spent illustrates the enormous challenges of campaigning effectively in a city that is as large as Surrey. Its diversity, with many eligible voters speaking languages other than English,  adds even more challenges to campaigning.

It is important to know just how expensive the election was and who contributed to the various candidates. Disclosure makes for more transparency. Council watchers will pay attention to decisions made in the next four years, and will be able to refer to disclosures if necessary.


Surrey North Delta Leader

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