VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – In a move likely to pull hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of big developer money out of BC city halls, the provincial government has introduced legislation to ban corporate and union donations from civic elections.
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson tabled the legislation, which would also ban money from out-of-province donors and restrict personal donations to $1,200 per political organization per year.
If approved, the new rules would impact fundraising for the October 20, 2018 municipal elections and would be retroactive to October 31, 2017.
“You all want to know that the people whose names are on the ballot, all had an equal opportunity to share their vision for your community,” Robinson said in a news conference following the tabling of the legislation. “It’s been a wild west in political fundraising here and people want change. Deep pockets shouldn’t decide elections. People should.”
The changes have received the stamp of approval from the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM), whose membership asked the government to consider such donation restrictions at its meeting in September.
“Elections shouldn’t be won or lost on whoever has the most money,” UBCM president Wendy Booth said. “Our members have supported changes for years because we recognize the potential for large donations from organizations and individuals can skew campaigns.”
Last month, the NDP introduced legislation to ban corporate and union donation in future provincial elections, starting in 2021.
However, unlike civic political parties, the provincial NDP, Greens and Liberals would receive tax money for at least the next five years as they adjust to the new fundraising model, plus an ongoing tax-payer funded reimbursement of a portion of election costs.
Vision Vancouver issued a statement in favour of the new legislation. The party’s councillor Andrea Reimer spearheaded calls for changes to donations laws 15 years ago.
“I cannot tell you how often I hear how people’s confidence in the decisions that governments make is very much linked to their perception of influence,” Reimer said. “The easiest way to deal with that is to get rid of the possibility of it, and that’s what the decision today does.”
Both Vision Vancouver and its primary rival, the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) party, have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate donations in recent years, much of which has come from large real estate developer firms.
Similar to Premier John Horgan’s response when asked why his party continued to accept corporate and union donations while advocating for a ban, Reimer said her party needed to accept the money in order to compete.
District of Oak Bay mayor Nils Jensen calls legislation “a victory for democracy” “a very successful triple play.” #bcpoli
— Lasia Kretzel (@lkretzel1130) October 30, 2017
Individuals will still be able to donate $1,200 a piece to multiple parties or independent candidates or the same party within different municipalities. However, the changes may also put more onus on parties or individual candidates to foot their bills themselves.
Parties and candidates would also not be allowed to accept loans unless they are from a savings institution at not less than prime rate or from an eligible individual and could not exceed $1,200.
The rules would also apply to those running for school trustees.
The new rules include enforcing an expense limits for municipal candidates bill that was passed by the previous Liberal government in 2016. Expenses will be limited for candidates depending on the size of their community. In communities with a population of fewer than 10,000 people, the expense limit will be $10,000 for mayoral candidates and $5,000 for all other candidates while larger communities will have limits based on a per-capita formula.