Proposed spending limit formula means $3 million civic campaigns are here to stay
On Friday, June 26, 2015, the BC Legislature’s Special Committee on Local Election Spending Limits quietly released its report and recommendations on local election spending limits to the public - but not without attracting the notice of Vancouver’s lone Green Party Councillor, Adriane Carr.
“There must be some mistake,” said Green Party of Vancouver Councillor Adriane Carr. “The Committee’s recommendations mean virtually no change to the status quo in Vancouver. City Council has called on the provincial government half a dozen times since 2005 to implement serious limits on campaign donations and spending. The detrimental effects of unlimited campaign contributions and out of control campaign spending on how people experience and perceive the fairness of our democracy and civic governance has been recognized for years.”
“I was extremely disappointed in February when the provincial government refused to consider placing limits on campaign contributions,” Carr added. “While Alberta caps contributions to municipal campaigns at $5000, Ontario at $750 and Quebec at $300 per person, here in Vancouver there is nothing stopping a repeat of the Mayor’s infamous $25,000 lunch last year. For the Committee to now say that, in addition, that civic parties can continue to spend $3 million plus on local election campaigns, is flabbergasting to say the least.”
The bi-partisan Special Committee, consisting of 5 Liberal and 3 NDP MLAs who voted unanimously to adopt the recommendations of its latest report, was struck in October 2014 with a mandate to consider local election campaign spending limits. Its work followed the passage in April 2014 of the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act, which disappointed those hoping for reform when it was shown to be completely lacking of any limits on either campaign contributions or expenditures.
The most significant recommendation of Friday’s report was the committee’s recommended formula for campaign spending limits in jurisdictions with a population of 10,000 or more. The committee recommended that:
a) mayoral candidates have an expense limit of: $1 per capita for the first 15,000 population $0.55 per capita for 15,000 to 150,000 population $0.60 per capita for 150,000 to 250,000 $0.15 per capita thereafter;
b) candidates for all other locally elected offices have an expense limit of: $0.50 per capita for the first 15,000 population $0.28 per capita for 15,000 to 150,000 population $0.30 per capita for 150,000 to 250,000 population, $0.08 per capita thereafter.
Based on the Vancouver’s population of 603,502 according to the 2011 census, the Committee’s spending limits formula would have yielded the following expense limits in the 2014 civic election:
Mayoral candidates: $202,275
Council and Park Board candidates: $103,580
School Board Trustees: $104,205 (this is slightly higher than for Council and Park Board candidates due to the inclusion of the UBC Endowment Lands’ permanent population of 7,816 (2011), who are entitled to vote in Vancouver School Board elections but not Council or Park Board elections).
Because of the Committee’s principle of neutrality with regards to whether candidates are running as independents or are pooling their resources as part of an elector organization, the recommendations mean that an electoral organization running a full slate of 27 candidates for Mayor, City Council, Park Board and School Board in the 2014 civic election could have spent a total of $2.9 million and still fallen within the limits.
“As I read through the report, I thought ‘There must be a mistake somewhere’, says Councillor Carr. “How could the Committee report extensively on the much lower per-elector spending limit formulas in other provinces, and on the much lower limits requested in the public submissions to the Committee, and still have come up with a formula that brings no relief to the situation in cities like Vancouver and Surrey? This is not the ‘fair and even playing field’ the Committee says it was striving for.”
Based on population increases projected by BC Stats, aggregate limits for an elector organization running a full slate of candidates in the next civic election in 2018 could reach as high as $3,030,446. The Special Committee further recommends that per-capita expense limits be allowed to increase at the rate of inflation.
By comparison, in 2014 Vision Vancouver spent an all-time record of $3,410,533 for the Council, Park Board and School Board races. The NPA declared $2,021,090 in campaign spending, while the Green Party of Vancouver, which limited all donations to $5000 and prohibited donations from property developers, spent $83,396.
Conspicuously absent from the Special Committee’s report was any mention of limits or reporting on campaign contributions and expenses incurred in between election years.
The Green Party of Vancouver (GPV) was an active participant in the Special Committee’s consultations, and was one of the only Vancouver elector organizations (along with Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver) to make a presentation to the Committee during public hearings held in April, 2015. There, the GPV advocated for an overall spending limit for elector organizations in the range of $0.25-$0.50 per eligible voter, citing its own experience that it is possible to run a strong and engaging campaign on even less funding than that.
“Having attended the public hearings in Vancouver, I know that many citizens and organizations came forward at the hearings or via written submissions to express concern with the status quo and to ask for real change, for the sake of the health of our democracy,” said Jordan Bober, the Green Party of Vancouver Board member who presented to the Special Committee on behalf of the party. “$3 million dollar campaigns without donation limits aren’t change - they are the deeply troubling status quo that prompted the need for a committee on spending limits in the first place. The recommendations show that the committee either failed to incorporate what citizens were telling them, didn’t run the numbers to see what implications its formula would have for a city like Vancouver, or both.”
Report and Recommendations of the Special Committee on Local Election Spending Limits:http://www.leg.bc.ca/cmt/40thParl/session-4/leel/reports/PDF/Rpt-LEEL-40-4-FinalReport-2015-JUN-26.pdf
June 26, 2015 Media Release from the Special Committee on Local Election Spending Limits:
Councillor Carr and VanGreens take a stand and set an example to get big money out of politics: http://www.vangreens.ca/campaignfinancereform