COLUMN: A high price to pay for office

Thousands spent on election bids in Surrey, White Rock and Delta.

Running for office isn’t a low-budget affair in Surrey, and it’s only slightly less expensive in Delta and White Rock.

The sweep by Surrey First, under Mayor Dianne Watts, cost $662,350.

While that is a staggering sum, it’s also important to note that Surrey has grown tremendously in population and communicating with possible voters isn’t cheap or easy. It’s also important to note that, for that amount, Surrey First elected all nine members of council.

Obviously, a campaign costing that much requires some hefty donations. Given that Surrey is the most desirable place in B.C. for land development, more than half of Surrey First’s total donations of $676,283 came from developers, builders and realtors. Surrey First is generally amenable to development and many developers like the way the city is operating.

Surrey First only received $55,300 in donations from individuals, which isn’t that much considering the overall donations.

Ross Buchanan, who mounted the most effective campaign against Watts (who got about 80 per cent of the vote), spent $37,564 to come in second. For Surrey, that’s a low-budget campaign for mayor. He supplied most of the money for his campaign.

Surrey Civic Coalition spent $185,929 in an almost-fruitless attempt to win a couple of council seats and a couple of seats on the Surrey Board of Education. While trustee candidate Charlene Dobie was elected, longtime councillor Bob Bose lost his seat, as did first-term trustee Ijaz Chatha.

SCC focused much of its efforts on the board of education race – more than it did on the eight council seats it was contesting. This may make some sense, as SCC has been more successful in capturing trustee seats in recent elections. It spent far more than rival Surrey First Education, which spent $55,110 to elect five of six trustees, while SCC spent $82,699.

Much of SCC’s funding came from organized labour. However, the lack of a mayoral candidate hurt SCC’s overall campaign and likely diminished its ability to compete with Surrey First.

Independent Judy Higginbotham, who has the advantage of good name recognition – given her many years on council – spent $31,925 in a losing attempt to get back on council.

In Delta, Mayor Lois Jackson and her three slate mates from Delta Independent Voters Association spent $93,358 on their campaigns. This was up substantially from 2008, when DIVA spent $67,000.

Jackson had the great advantage of a split vote for mayor and strength in North Delta. The other three candidates for mayor were from South Delta. However, her victory wasn’t cheap either, considering that Delta is much easier to campaign in than Surrey is.

In White Rock, Mayor Wayne Baldwin spent $30,288 on his campaign – a substantial sum for a White Rock election. His rival, Lynne Sinclair, spent slightly less, $24,772.

Obviously, it took a great deal of money to get elected. Those with eyes on the prize and solid experience in campaigning knew that, and many spent accordingly. However, it was impossible to stop the Watts juggernaut in Surrey, and Surrey First Education – which is loosely affiliated with the mayor’s slate – did almost as well in the board of education race.

Delta and White Rock candidates are also getting into the act of spending more for council and board of education races.

Civic office may be less glamourous than federal or provincial offices, but the cost of mounting campaigns isn’t all that different any more.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.