Changes coming to local elections

Four year terms, spending limits to be enacted for municipal and school board elections

Legislation tabled by the B.C. government last week will extend the term of local government office to four years as rules are tightened for campaign financing and advertising. Candidates for municipal and school board elections will also have to register with Elections BC and report donations of $50 or more when they run in province-wide elections this November.

Third-party advertisers will have to register before promoting candidates, and financial disclosures will have to be filed with Elections BC within 90 days of the vote.

Cranbrook Mayor Wayne Stetski said transparency is a good thing, as well as the imposing of limits on spending.

“Limits should be set on how much candidates can spend on municipal elections – several provinces already have these limits in place,” Stetski said. “Right now in B.C. and even in Cranbrook candidates could spend thousands, hundreds of thousands or even a million dollars trying to get elected which would mean an uneven playing field for those with limited resources.”

Stetski said getting elected should be about the quality of the candidates and the amount of self-promotion they can afford to do.

Campaign spending limits won’t be imposed until after the elections scheduled for Nov. 15, 2014. Sport and Cultural Development Minister Coralee Oakes said that measure is complex because the variety of local governments in B.C. is the widest in Canada, including large and small communities, regional districts, school boards, park boards and the Islands Trust that governs the Gulf Islands.

Oakes said the new rules have been developed in consultation with the Union of B.C. Municipalities, and that discussion determined that an outright ban on anonymous donations is too strict. The disclosure rule will also apply to third-party advertisers, who will have to report sources of donations more than $50 and identify themselves in advertising.

The legislation also moves the date of local elections from November to October, but that won’t take effect until 2018.

UBCM president Rhona Martin, a director of the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, said the move to four-year terms is not a “perfect solution,” but it was supported by a majority of delegates at last year’s convention. In previous votes, some small community representatives said even three-year terms may be too long for a time-consuming commitment with little pay.

Cranbrook’s mayor agreed.

“Being an elected official is a serious time commitment and signing up for a four year term rather than three years will require potential candidates to think about their personal situations and if they are up to the commitment,” Stetski said. “The upside of a four year term, which is standard in Federal and Provincial politics and in many other provinces for municipal governments, is a lower cost to taxpayers for elections and more time for elected officials to implement their campaign promises. These are good things.”

Minister Oakes also noted the change in reporting rules creates a large task of compliance and enforcement for Elections BC. Oakes said the Elections BC will present its proposed costs to the legislature committee that determines budgets for all independent officers, including the Auditor General.

 

With files from

Tom Fletcher