Welcome to the Six-Million Dollar Election?

2008 Election Sets Spending Record?On March 16, the four civic parties that successfully elected candidates in the 2008 Vancouver municipal election will disclose their campaign finances to the city clerk's office.

Besides revealing who donated, how much was donated, and what the parties spent their funds on, the disclosures will once again confirm that Vancouver's municipal elections are the most inequitable electoral contests in Canada - bar none. In fact, for the third election in a row, Vancouver will probably set a new Canadian record for political campaign spending. The bill for the fall 2008 campaign and the two spring mayoral nomination battles could easily hit $6.0 million say some observers, surpassing the previous 2005 record of $4.5 million.

It's a problem that has been in the making for more than a decade. And it has only gotten worse.

Money spent by the politicians and their financial backers on Vancouver elections tripled between 1996 and 2005. This rapid increase in campaign costs made the 2005 civic election cost almost five times more per voter when compared to the 2006 federal election cost per voter.

 

Election

Total Expenses*

Total Eligible Voters
Cost Per Voter
2005 Vancouver Election $4,509,535.27 411,739 $10.95
2006 Federal Election $53,518,464.06 22,765,324 $2.35


*combined expenses of all parties that successfully elected candidates

In contrast to Canada's seven largest cities, Vancouver is alone when it comes to its wild west ways of election financing. Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Calgary and Mississauga all have election spending and contribution limits, so why not Canada's eighth largest city?

It isn't because the civic parties don't want change. Since 2002, every city council – Coalition of Progressive Electors, Non-Partisan Association and now Vision Vancouver – committed to reforming campaign financing at the municipal level.

In June 2004, former BC supreme court Justice Thomas Berger and his Vancouver Electoral Reform Commission called for restrictions on campaign contributions and spending during municipal elections, along with 21 other electoral reform measures.

The following March, the COPE-run city council under Mayor Larry Campbell passed a motion asking Victoria to implement many of these recommendations, as the city alone could not amend the Vancouver Charter to bring in the Berger reforms. No action was taken by the provincial government.

Two-plus years later in November 2007, Mayor Sam Sullivan's NPA majority reaffirmed its support for the same electoral financing reform measures put forward by the Campbell council. The province made no changes and the 2008 civic election is contested under the same-old discredited campaign financing rules.

Now Vancouver has its third mayor and governing party since 2002 and the city council position is the same. Mayor Gregor Robertson's Vision party promised in their 2008 election platform to advocate for changes to provincial legislation to establish campaign spending and donation limits. With tri-partisan support at Vancouver city hall for reforming civic election financing, the ball is now squarely in the province's court.

After May's provincial election, it will be time for the newly-elected provincial government to follow the civic parties' lead by setting politics aside and implementing the necessary changes to restore the integrity and equity of Vancouver's civic elections.

Leading up to the May 12 provincial election, Think City will be raising the issue of electoral reform at the municipal level. Visit here for details.