Open Letter to Minister re: Electoral Finance Reform

On January 14th, 2014, representatives of the Green Party of Vancouver participated in a consultation session on Local Government Elections Reform held by the Hon. Coralee Oakes, B.C. Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. A key part of the the changes being considered by the Minister includes whether to impose limits on political contributions and expenditures at the municipal level (currently there are virutally no limits on either). 

Jacquie Miller, Chair of the Green Party of Vancouver which officially supports for the principles articulated in the “Get Big Money Out of Civic Politics” petition championed by City Hall Watch, subsequently wrote a letter to the Minister to articulate her concerns about what is lacking from the proposed legislative reforms. The content of her letter follows:

January 31, 2014

Honourable Coralee Oakes
Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development
Province of British Columbia

Dear Minister Oakes,

RE: Local Government Elections Reform

The Green Party of Vancouver would like to thank you for your work to-date in gathering feedback from local government elector organizations on the changes being considered to local government elections reform. I was pleased to attend the session you and your Ministry held in Vancouver on January 14 this year. Following up on that meeting and in response to the White Paper your Ministry has produced, I would like to make a few comments of critical importance to the Green Party of Vancouver, which I know are shared with many other local government elector organizations.

I would like, first to reiterate the Green Party of Vancouver’s support for the principles articulated in the “Get Big Money Out of Civic Politics” petition championed by City Hall Watch, particularly placing limits on contributions and on spending, in addition to putting in place effective regulations to prevent funneling of donations through third parties. These measures are critically needed in Vancouver and other large metropolitan communities, where many political parties and candidates spend upwards of millions of dollars per campaign, a feat that is only possible if these parties are able to accept large or unlimited donations from large institutions like corporations and unions. While communicating to diverse, mobile, busy, and advanced audiences in these metropolitan communities is a challenge that can be greatly facilitated by large campaign contributions and expenditures, allowing political parties or candidates to accept large or unlimited campaign contributions and expenditures has a profoundly damaging effect on meaningful democracy in these communities. Amongst other effects, two key impacts are:


  1. Preventing regular citizens, with legitimate concerns about and visions for their communities, who are not backed by big money a meaningful opportunity to reach and effectively communicate their message to the electorate.
  2. Allowing private interests (non-citizens) such influence over the course and outcome of our local democratic process, affecting our abilities, as citizens, to govern ourselves and put in place the bylaws, policies, and other rules we decide are needed to maintain the vitality and integrity of our communities. Many of these private interests have a vested interest in decisions that later take place at the Council table, causing many citizens concern about a potential connection between contributions and Council decisions and causing many citizens to lose faith in the health and integrity of our democracy. Many diverse voices in our community have expressed great concern that this influence and these decisions are not in the public interest.

In the 2011 Vancouver civic election, our City Council candidate, Adriane Carr was successfully elected, with a campaign budget that was miniscule compared to the other parties that won Council seats in that election. Her case proves that it is entirely possible to win elections in a major metropolitan centre without sky-high contributions and expenditures. However, Councillor Carr has been campaigning for election for decades and has unique name recognition she’s achieved as a result. Any other citizen who is well qualified and passionate about their issues and vision would have had a near impossible time getting elected with the same level ofdonations and expenditures, having to compete against the other parties that received and spent millions of dollars in campaign contributions.

At the January 14, 2014 meeting with local elector organizations in Vancouver, I heard that your Ministry is struggling with the question of how to make one piece of legislation that will work for all communities in BC. Because of the great diversity of communities in our province, I would caution about trying to find one solution that fits all communities. It is imperative that the unique situation of large metropolitan communities, such as Vancouver, be recognized and that our situations are dealt with appropriately. It may be the case that contributions and expenditures can and should be higher in large municipalities than in much smaller communities, but contributions and expenditures in Vancouver in particular have been way out of control and seriously marginalize other democratic participants and hinder their ability to participate on a level playing field. Allowing large or unlimited contributions and expenditures cedes democracy to private interests, a fate we must correct, prevent, and protect against.

In close, I would like to reiterate the recommendation of my Green Party of Vancouver colleague, John Whistler, to follow the practices of Elections Canada, to:
• Limit contributions to eligible voters only;
• Limit campaign contributions to a reasonable level per contributor;
• Limit election campaign spending for elector organizations, candidates and third parties.

I also wholeheartedly implore you not to defer the issue of limiting election expenses to the future. We must have fair spending rules in place for the civic election that will occur later this year, the health and sincerity of our democracy will be seriously compromised for the next three years. Ensuring fairness of our democratic process now will have a large and meaningful positive impact on our communities; deferring action will also have a large and meaningful impact on our community – one that has serious potential to harm our community for years to come. The City of Vancouver brought this issue in front of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities in 2013 and got almost unanimous support in favour of our City’s desire to put in place election finance reform limiting donations and spending at that time. Please act now on the issue of expense limits.

Jacquie Miller
Green Party of Vancouver

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