There was a rare display of non-partisan agreement at the B.C. legislature Thursday as debate began on bringing municipal election finance rules into line with provincial restrictions on fundraising and campaigns.
Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne, who was mayor of Tofino until the October election, said the changes are mainly based on 2018 recommendations of B.C.’s Chief Electoral Officer. They include extending the official campaign period for local elections from 29 to 89 days, restricting third-party donations and preventing local political slates from accepting money for operating expenses between elections.
“This new framework will result in elector organizations being treated more like provincial political parties under the Election Act, but continues to accommodate the elements that make local elections unique from provincial elections,” Osborne told the legislature March 4. “Changes to the rules governing election advertising will enhance the transparency of advertising by making it clear who is sponsoring advertising during the pre-campaign period.
“The types of activities that are captured as election advertising will be clarified. This will ensure that paid canvassing activities, such as door-to-door canvassing or canvassing by telephone and mailing election materials on a commercial basis, will be subject to election advertising rules.”
B.C. Liberal MLA Dan Ashton, a former mayor of Penticton, said he expects his fellow opposition members to support the legislation after detailed discussion. He said the inclusion of paid canvassers as a registered advertising expense and the a $1,200 cap for third parties donating are overdue reforms. He expects more debate on a change that allows campaigning politicians and canvassers into strata condo units.
“It provides Elections B.C. with additional penalties to fine people who do not comply with the rules and the process, and it also removes the 30-day local residency requirement in order to vote, as that has pros and cons,” Ashton said.
“It allows access for strata properties and other properties for canvassing. I look upon my peers that are from the Lower Mainland and look at all those large towers inhabited by residents and wonder how they have the opportunity to be able to show those residents what they want to do for them. That’s a difficult process, and I hope that that also comes into consideration in the future.”
Jinny Sims, NDP MLA for Surrey Panorama, welcomed new restrictions on “pseudo-parties that operate as electoral organizations” in civic elections. Osborne noted that election slates or municipal parties are mainly a Lower Mainland phenomenon now, but with technology and advertising changing quickly, the province needs to be ready to regulate elections for councils, school boards and regional districts.