B.C.’s first test of its new local election laws is revealing “gaps” that may have to be addressed after communities cast their ballots for council and school board on Oct. 20, Premier John Horgan says.
Spending caps designed to get “big money” from developers and unions out of urban campaigns have shown financial leaks that were forecast when the NDP government put them in place this spring.
The most obvious ones have been in Vancouver, where unlimited pre-campaign spending allowed developer Peter Wall to spend more than $80,000 on billboards endorsing mayoral candidate Hector Bremner’s housing plan.
Mayoral rival and former NDP MP Kennedy Stewart’s campaign has attracted criticism for support from the local labour council, but Kennedy campaign manager Neil Monckton said campaign staff are not paid by union funds and the labour council is independently endorsing more than 20 candidates in Vancouver area elections.
“We’re going to look at the consequences of any violations of the existing act, or any gaps that may be there that have been exploited by some, whether it be billboards or employees in kind,” Horgan said. “But we’ll look at that after the campaign is concluded and make any adjustments to the legislation that we believe are appropriate.”
Horgan said he’ll avoid the example of Ontario Premier Doug Ford, trying to change the rules in the middle of a municipal election campaign.
In B.C., new rules ban corporate and union money donations, and cap individual spending at $1,200 for individual donations. Candidates have to record their donations starting Jan. 1 of the election year, but spending limits didn’t take effect until the official campaign period began until Sept. 22. The billboard spending doesn’t count against the Bremner’s spending cap.
Support of in-kind staff has been controversial at the federal and provincial level, as well as in municipal votes. Last spring, B.C. Liberal MLA Todd Stone used a private members’ bill to push for a change to the new NDP law that allowed municipal party administration costs to be omitted from the corporate-union ban between votes.
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Elections B.C. has set spending caps for each B.C. municipality, based on size, covering the 28-day official campaign that ends on election day Oct. 20. For smaller B.C. communities such as Revelstoke and Hope, mayoral candidates have a limit of $10,000 to run for mayor and $5,000 for a council seat.
Abbotsford’s urban population means a mayoral candidate’s spending is limited to $86,556.10, while council candidates may spend up to $43,928,56.
Outside urban areas, the $1,200 cap on personal donations is a problem because it applies to the candidates funding their own campaigns. Depending on signs and local advertising, most municipal candidates don’t have any significant fundraising.