EDITORIAL: The cost of democracy

A move to impose spending limits on municipal election campaigns should be expanded to all types of elections.

The promise from the provincial government that spending limits will be in place for municipal elections by 2018 is curious on a number of levels.

First, interested members of the public have only until Dec. 5 to make submissions, attend hearings or fill out an online questionnaire (www.leg.bc.ca/cmt/leel/submissions.asp) for the special legislative committee which has already been gathering input from electoral organizations and other stakeholders.

It’s also odd that the BC Liberals – while seeking to protect us from potential corruption on a municipal level – have not seen fit to support limits on spending or donations from corporations or unions provincially. Why should such a move not be applied across the board in B.C.?

The fact remains that the financing of political campaigns by special interests with deep pockets needs to be addressed across Canada  – including at the local level, where civic governments’ decisions literally impact our own backyards.

Currently, B.C. has no limit municipally on who – whether an individual, a business or a union – can contribute to politicians’ war chests, or how much money they can throw in the coffers.

Municipal politicians are legally obligated to divulge campaign contributors and amounts, but only after the elections, when the dust has settled.

It goes against nature to suppose that someone who has received significant financial backing from a specific interest will not feel beholden in some way, somewhere down the line. And those who lay out large sums of money likely consider it an investment.

Even if politicians are entirely able to divorce such considerations from their deliberations – remaining completely pure and unsullied – they still open themselves to accusations of bias.

Politicians can’t ignore that the electorate is becoming far more suspicious of where their campaign contributions are coming from – which is why, in the recent civic election, most Vancouver candidates and even some in Surrey and White Rock – made a point of disclosing the information before election day, long before it was mandatory.

There is writing on the wall here – even at the federal level. Even though the Conservatives made it illegal to accept union and corporate campaign donations in 2006, abuses have been recorded. And the public is increasingly wary of large sums being spent by federal parties on image and attack ads – particularly prior to elections, when spending is not subject to the same rules and scrutiny.

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