Frank Bucholtz Surrey column

AND FRANKLY: Where there’s a will to raise funds, politicians will find a way

The province is bringing in new municipal election rules

The province is bringing in new municipal election rules, and much of the focus is on the opaque electoral organizations which surface before each campaign. They either disappear forever afterwards or again rise to the surface in four years’ time.

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne, who was mayor of Tofino until getting elected provincially in 2020, says the changes will treat these organizations more like political parties. These organizations are primarily a Lower Mainland phenomenon, and in Surrey they have been key to getting elected for more than 50 years. In that time there have been many organizations, but none has lasted any longer than 20 years. Instead, they are replaced by other ones – often with the same people involved, both as candidates and in the back rooms.

Only two mayors have been elected as independents since the 1960s – Ed McKitka in 1975, and Dianne Watts in 2005. Both were high-profile incumbent councillors before seeking the mayor’s chair. Jeanne Eddington was the only independent to win a councillor’s seat on Surrey council in the past 40 years, without first being elected as part of a slate.

The 2018 Surrey campaign likely played a big part in the proposed changes in provincial rules. No less than eight electoral organizations were contesting seats for Surrey council. Eight people ran for mayor, and 49 for the eight councillors’ seats.

The organizations spent around $1.4 million on the election. This was likely quite a bit less than it could have been – in 2014, Surrey First spent almost $1.2 million to win all nine council seats, with $1.029 million of that coming from developers and other business people. Not long after the NDP government took office in 2017, such contributions were outlawed.

Surrey First still managed to raise $832,750 for the 2018 campaign. Almost half of it was raised from large contributors before the new rules went into effect on Oct. 31, 2017. It didn’t do the once-powerful organization much good – only one Surrey First candidate, Linda Annis, was elected.

The new rules extend the campaign period to 89 days, and limit third-party spending on a campaign to $1,200. This will mute the opportunity for big money to get involved at an earlier stage. The changes will also prohibit large donations for “operational expenses,” something Surrey First was able to do in the past.

The change in rules will make the 2022 election campaign in Surrey very interesting. Surrey is a very expensive place to run a campaign, which is one reason electoral organizations are so influential here. Even in the early 1970s, it was hard for an independent candidate to campaign all across the city, which at the time had less than 20 per cent of the current population.

Mayor Doug McCallum has been a lightning rod for critics since coming up the middle in 2018 to defeat incumbent councillors Tom Gill of Surrey First and Bruce Hayne of Integrity Now for the mayor’s seat on council. The plan to move to a Surrey Police force remains highly controversial, and three of the councillors elected as part of McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition have left the slate.

The 2022 campaign is certain to be hotly-contested, not just for mayor, but for each of the eight councillors’ seats. It takes plenty of money to run campaigns, and the third-party avenues used in the past will be very limited, if not shut off completely.

However, never underestimate the creative ability of backroom operators to find ways to get the money (“the mother’s milk of politics”) needed to run the 2022 campaigns in Surrey.

Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

ColumnPoliticsSurrey