Vancouver - Following the tabling by the provincial government last Thursday of the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act (Bill 20), and in the wake of a controversial $25,000-a-plate luncheon fundraiser for Mayor Gregor Robertson organised by developer Bob Rennie last month, Vancouver City Councilor Adriane Carr and the Green Party of Vancouver yesterday made a double move that they hope will kickstart a city dialogue about limiting the influence of money on local politics.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Councilor Carr submitted a notice of motion entitled “Campaign Financing Limits for November 15, 2014 Vancouver Civic Election”, which is scheduled for the April 15th Council agenda. The motion cites the failure of Bill 20 to include any legally prescribed limits on either individual or corporate donations to civic political parties and candidates, despite repeated requests to the provincial government by Vancouver City Council in recent years to prescribe such limits in law in order to tamp down on the rapidly ballooning role of money in Vancouver politics - a city with 420,000 voters where, in 2011, over $5.2 million was spent by civic parties and candidates on election campaigns.
Carr spent only $11,000 on her own successful campaign in 2011. By contrast, Vision Vancouver and the NPA received $2,227,402.34 and $2,555,707.80 in campaign contributions that year, respectively. Currently, B.C. does not have any legislation imposing limits on either spending by or donations to civic political parties or candidates in municipal elections.
Carr’s motion, seconded by Councilor Affleck, calls on Council to communicate with the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, “urgently calling upon her to amend Bill 20 (Local Elections Campaign Financing Act) by including amendments or the intent to amend the Vancouver Charter” to incorporate a set of rules as recommended by a 2010 all-party subcommittee of Vancouver City Council, including limits on the amount and source of donations, limits on election campaign spending, a ban on corporate and union donations and strong rules governing disclosure of donations and spending.
Should the provincial government fail to heed Council’s request, the motion calls for the creation of an all-party subcommittee of Council to be established to develop - in time for the next civic elections on November 15, 2014 - a set of campaign finance guidelines based on the 2010 recommendations that it would urge all civic parties and candidates to adopt voluntarily, in the absence of legal constraints.
In her motion, Carr cites as an example the Nov. 4, 2013 motion passed by North Vancouver City Council which strongly urges all candidates for election to Council to abstain from accepting donations from developers with projects or potential projects before Council or from labour unions that represent employees of the City because “the appearance of a conflict of interest is created when developers and unions that make significant contributions to election campaigns of candidates for Council also have matters that come before Council and that whether or not these conflicts are permitted in law, they harm the reputation of Council and impair the legitimacy of its decisions.”
Also yesterday, by way of taking a leadership position on the issue of campaign finance reform, the Board of Directors of the Green Party of Vancouver passed a motion voluntarily restricting the party’s election spending as well as the amounts and sources of donations that it would accept, in what it believes is a model that all Vancouver civic parties could follow. In doing so, the Green Party of Vancouver is the first civic Party to accept IntegrityBC's Vancouver Campaign Finance Challenge, which it issued last month in the wake of the $25,000 lunch controversy.
"We are both disappointed and perplexed that in spite of repeated requests by Vancouver City Council and many civic groups, the B.C. government has not heeded the call for basic campaign financing reform to protect the integrity of our democratic process," says Green Party of Vancouver Chair Jacquie Miller, who wrote an open letter to the minister responsible, Coralee Oakes, in January to voice her concerns. "In the absence of provincial leadership in this matter, we believe that the right thing to do would be for all parties to adopt self-imposed limits on donations and spending. Otherwise, with the proposed increase in civic election terms from 3 years to 4, we risk perpetuating a status quo that has shaken faith in local democracy for another four years.”
The Green Party of Vancouver has taken up IntegrityBC's challenge by adopting a self-imposed spending limit of $0.65 per elector for the 2014 election campaign, which in 2014 will amount to a limit of approximately $273,000. In addition, candidates endorsed by the party may spend up to $0.15 per elector (approx. $63,000 today) on their own campaigns, except for a mayoral candidate whose spending limit would also be $0.65/elector.
In addition, the GPV has strengthened its donation policy, which already expressly prohibits donations of any size from "property development companies and corporations in the fossil fuel sector, including donations from those corporations’ CEOs, owners, executive and board members", by also limiting all donations to a maximum of $5,000 or less annually, and to Canadian sources exclusively.