Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits April 13, 2015
Room 224, Parliament Buildings
Victoria, B.C., V8V 1X4
Submitted electronically at: https://www.leg.bc.ca/cmt/leel/submission.asp
Dear Committee Members
This letter is a submission on local elections expense limits on behalf of the Grandview-Woodland Area Council (GWAC), which is a residents’ association that strives to represent the interests of this Vancouver neighbourhood, to inform and activate its residents, and to advocate for the protection and enrichment of our community.
We write to urge you to recommend and pursue the implementation of expense limits for local governments in British Columbia, and especially for the City of Vancouver. It is our view that limits on allowable campaign expenses should be low enough to promote fair participation by all parties in local government elections, and should be strict enough to prevent circumventing expense limits. The use of third party organizations to promote an individual, a party, or a ‘slate’ in a local election is an example of a means of circumventing expense limits placed on local government candidates, slates or parties, and expense limits should be structured to prevent such tactics. Similarly limits on campaign donations should be strict enough to prevent schemes to, for example, channel donations through other persons or entities once an individual or organization has reached the maximum allowable donation.
In the 2014 Vancouver civic election, there were approximately 422, 000 registered voters in the City of Vancouver and the University Endowment Lands, combined. Of those 422,000 voters, approximately 182,000 actually cast ballots, for a voter turnout of about 43 percent. Reported spending by the 3 major parties was as follows:
Vision Vancouver $3,313,450
Non Partisan Association $2,021,090
Green Party of Vancouver $88,388
1. source: ElectionsBC – Parties financial disclosure statements; vision Vancouver figures do not include separate statement for School Board Election.
2. The Green Party of Vancouver does not permit donations from developers and fossil fuel companies, and caps eligible contributions at $5,000 per donor.]
Based on the above figures, the three parties spending per registered voter, and per vote cast, was as follows:
Party Spending per reg. voter Spending per vote cast
Vision Vancouver $7.85 $18.21
Non Partisan Association $4.79 $11.10
Green Party of Vancouver $0.21 $0.49
[Rounded to the nearest $0.01]
The Vancouver Sun, the Globe and Mail, and the Georgia Strait, all reported on very large donations by development companies and other business or business owners, and by unions. As the Vancouver Sun said in a sub-head to an on-line feature on the top ten municipal campaign contributors: “ Unions, corporations and real estate developers dominate the list of the top ten political donors to city halls across Metro Vancouver.”
The lack of expense limits of local government elections has a corrosive effect on democracy. If elections are not seen to be fair, the faith placed in the motives and actions of elected officials is quickly eroded and replaced by cynicism and skepticism. We have seen this in our own neighbourhood.
Vancouver is currently consulting with residents and businesses in Grandview-Woodland with the goal of developing a neighbourhood plan. A key focus of this plan is land use and zoning within the neighbourhood. At several of the meetings and workshops GWAC members have attended they have heard people express the view that the City will simply approve a plan that gives developers what they want. Whether true or not, this is an example of the corrosive effect that large campaign donations from those who may be perceived to benefit from future city council decisions, can create.
Toronto limits campaign expenses to roughly $0.85 per elector per candidate. It limits campaign contributions to $2,500 for mayoralty candidates and $750 for councilor or trustee candidates, and corporate and union donations are banned. If the Toronto limit was adopted for Vancouver it would be $358,700 per candidate or, if applied to a full slate of candidates in Vancouver (27), the total limit would be $9.6 million, if the approach suggested by the Committee’s December 15, 2014 report of “…no separate additional expense limit for elector organizations…” is adopted. Consequently, the Toronto example is far too high. However, the Toronto expense limit is coupled with a limit on contributions, which provides a functional limit on the ability of candidates to raise money for expenses from large contributors. For these reasons, the Toronto example, if taken for campaign expense limits only, is much too high and should be discarded.
Montreal limited 2013 spending for a municipal party running a full slate of candidates for its 103 council and borough positions to $1.65 million or $1.50 per voter. The limit for individual contributions was reduced in 2013 to $300 per individual contribution. If the Montreal limit was adopted for Vancouver, then based on the number of voters, the total allowable expenditure limit would be about $633,000. This provides a more reasonable example of a campaign expense limits, but only if coupled with stringent campaign contribution limits, including a ban on corporate and union donations. Without stringent limits on campaign contributions, the limits on campaign expenses is arguably still too high and should be in the range of $0.75 to $1.00 per voter.
On behalf of Grandview-Woodland Area Council Directors: