B.C. aims to cap municipal election campaign spending

Deep pockets are going to be less of a factor in the next BC municipal election in 2018.

Deep pockets are going to be less of a factor in the next BC municipal election in 2018.

Peter Fassbender, the minister for Community, Sport and Cultural Development introduced legislation this week that will put a cap on election spending by candidates running for mayor, councillor, electoral area director or school board trustee in any B.C. city, based on a sliding scale indexed to population.

Under the new rules, candidates for Penticton mayor will have to limit their campaign spending to about $25,000 and council candidates to about $12,500 in 2018. That wouldn’t have made any difference in the 2014 Penticton election race, where Mayor Andrew Jakubeit won with a budget of $22,398 and the highest amount spent by an elected councillor was $8,282, well below the spending cap.

In communities with a population over 10,000, mayoral candidates are capped at $1 per capita for the first 15,000 people, 55 cents per capita up to 150,000, 60 cents per capita for 150,000 to 200,000 and only 15 cents for communities larger than that. Councillors are limited to half those amounts.

In communities with a population of 10,000 or less, a mayoral candidate would have a flat $10,000 campaign spending limit, and councillors would be limited to $5,000.

With a population of 11,280, according to the 2011 census, Summerland is just over the limit defining small communities; municipal candidates there would be capped at no more than $11,280 to run for mayor and $5,640 for a council or school board seat.

Like Penticton, the spending limits would not have affected the 2014 election in Summerland, where Mayor Peter Waterman’s campaign was well below the spending limit with a total of $6,043. His mayor contenders David Gregory ($2,911) and Orv Robson, ($3,051) were also below the limit, though a fourth contender, Roch Fortin, might have had his wings clipped a little after spending $11,401 on his mayoral campaign.

In Kelowna, Mayor Colin Basran might have had to cut back a bit having spent $76,452 on his campaign, when the limit would have been about $71,270.

According to the report released by the special legislative committee on local election financing in June, 31 mayoral candidates and 69 council candidates across B.C. spent more last year than the proposed new limit will allow.

Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart, who chaired the committee on local election financing as it toured the province earlier this year, said the limits are aimed to make running for local government “accessible and affordable,” while recognizing the vast difference between political campaigns in large cities and those in small communities.

Dermod Travis, executive director for Integrity B.C., said the sliding scale reflects the different needs of small and large communities.

“It’s unfortunate the other half of the equation is not being tackled at the same time, which would be donations. But I think they’ve found a good middle for where those caps should be on expenses.”

It will make it harder for well-funded candidates to use advertising firepower to beat their opponents, he predicted.

“You’re going to see less money getting spent, which means candidates have to raise less money. Which means that they’re actually going to have to campaign more in terms of meeting voters rather than buying ads.”

Third-party advertisers are to be limited to spending no more than five per cent of the cap of a candidate within a 28-day campaign period, up to a cumulative maximum of $150,000 province-wide. The expense limits would apply from Jan. 1 of the election year until voting day.

The committee’s recommendations, which were released in June 2015, have support of both the BC Liberals and NDP, as well as the Union of B.C. Municipalities. The government is taking public comments in a final round of consultations until Nov 27 before the bill is expected to pass.