Help has Arrived???

On May 31st the taskforce on Local Elections made up of Mayors, Councillors and MLAs.

It made 31 recommendations including:
1. Establish expense limits for all campaign participants (e.g. electors, elector organizations and third party advertisers)
2. Regulate third party advertisers, requiring them to register and disclose expenses and contributions
3. Ban anonymous contributions
4. Require sponsorship information on all election advertising
5. Shorten the time for filing campaign finance disclosure statements to 90 days post election
6. Establish a central role for Elections BC in enforcement of campaign finance rules and in making campaign finance disclosure statements electronically accessible
7. Establish a separate Act for campaign finance rules in local elections
8. Increase Municipal terms from three to four years
9. No corporate votes.
(see the Report at http://www.localelectionstaskforce.gov.bc.ca/library/Task_Force_Report.pdf )

To comment briefly on these recommendations it strikes me that there are just a couple which will really resonate in Nanaimo.

It will be interesting to see if spending limits at the three named levels, electors, elector organizations and third party advertisers really bring any change in overall expenses. It will be noted that there are still no limits placed on campaign donations so I suspect there will be much more spending coming in the elector organization and third party advertised categories than has been the situation here previously.

[An examination of the contributions reported by winning candidates in the 2005 election demonstrates that there are very few grass roots in Nanaimo. Six of our nine municipal representatives got two thirds or more of their campaign contributions in donations of $500 or more.

Put another way, there were 42 individuals and companies who each gave between $500 and $5000 to the winning candidates and funded nearly 90% of all the money spent for their election in the 2005 campaign: 42 out of over 60,000. Does this reflect a healthy democracy?
Looked at yet another way over half of the money spent by the winning candidates came from only 12 donors! Twelve out of 60,000+ !!!]

Anonymous contributions have been limited in the past to donations under $50 and as neither parties nor grass root donations have been the practice here, this is not expected to make much difference here. Sponsorship information on election advertising only arose in our last election and will be welcome in the future.

Shortening the time for filing campaign finance to 90 days from 120 seems purposeless to me. So you learn who bought your election 30 days earlier? To make a difference, the list of donors should be provided at least a week before the election.

Moving Municipal Terms from three to four years is, in my opinion the most significant, self serving and dangerous of these recommendations. The only real control which Representative Democracy provides to citizens is an election. The only reason which would lead to a program being short-circuited by an election is if the electorate was not sold on it –and that is why elections are to be held. Terms should be set back to two years. Councils owe their citizens the chance to assess their performance.

[Nanaimo was originally incorporated on Dec. 24, 1874, and its’ first Council was made up of Mayor Mark Bate and seven Councillors for the 1875 term. The term of the Council was for one year. Elections were held annually for the next 100 years. How is that for democratic accountability? Council’s term went to two years in 1975 and then to three in 1991. ]

The task force recommended no change to the current practice of limiting voting to people rather than including corporations/businesses as voters. Thus it remains possible for business/corporate owners in a municipality to be elected to office even though they cannot vote there.
We seem to be on our way to lifetime Councillors as a matter of an extended legislative process rather than simply by practice.

What do you think? Is help on its way through these recommendations? Or are we being led further into the woods?

Ron Bolin

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