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

Coastal GasLink pipeline investor committed to closing deal despite protests

Developer TC Energy Corp. — formerly TransCanada Corp. — is to remain the operator of the $6.6-billion pipeline

Federal, B.C. ministers seek meeting with Wet’suwet’en in hope of blockade solution

Coastal GasLink signed agreements with all 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route

Wet’suwet’en and B.C. government have been talking Aboriginal title for a year

Coastal GasLink says it has agreements with all 20 elected First Nations councils along the 670-kilometre route

Wet’suwet’en return to camps near Houston, Coastal GasLink workers move through: First Nation

Opponents of a pipeline who support the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have reoccupied camps at centre of arrests

VIDEO: 7 things you need to know about the 2020 B.C. budget

Surplus of $227 million with big spending on infrastructure and capital projects

Trees Cannabis director fined $1.5M for selling marijuana

Fine follows provincial crackdown on popular dispensary

World Cup skier from Okanagan dies suddenly at 19

Kuroda, who made his World Cup debut earlier this year, passed away suddenly Monday night.

New highway proposed between Alberta and B.C.

The route would connect Red Deer to Kamloops

What’s in a name? The story of Revelstoke’s Mt. Begbie

It’s likely the iconic peak had several Indigenous peoples’ names before settlers arrived

Budget 2020: B.C. Liberals blast ‘Netflix tax,’ lack of economic plan

ICBC rates still go up, except in election year, Shirley Bond says

Teen snowmobiler from Kelowna found after air force’s overnight search

The teen had been missing since just after 6 p.m. on Monday

Two law enforcement trucks ‘deliberately’ set on fire in northern B.C., RCMP say

Police say they have video evidence of a person in the area of the truck fires

Nanaimo man wins lotto, plans to buy $16,000 fridge

Curtis Wright a winner in Lotto 6/49 draw

Most Read