Campaign finance reform will change civic elections in 2018

It’s official! The manner in which our municipal candidates raise money and operate their campaigns is about to radically change in time for the 2018 election.

Earlier today Premier Christy Clark proposed sweeping changes to the way civic elections will operate into the future. I wrote about this earlier this week as part of my exclusive interview with the Hon. Sam Sullivan, the Minister responsible for municipal affairs in B.C.

Today’s Throne Speech which was read by Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon covered a range of new campaign financing reforms which a number of pundits believe could be introduced as legislation early next week. They include:

  • Ban corporate, union, and third party donations, including donations in kind, to political parties;
  • Impose a maximum donation limit for individuals to political parties;
  • Ban donations to political parties from outside British Columbia, including foreign donations;
  • Restrict the role of money influencing elections through third parties;
  • Ban loans to municipal political parties by any organization other than a Canadian chartered bank or credit union

No doubt the Throne Speech sent shock waves through the ranks of a number of municipal politicos in Metro Vancouver – many of whom rely very heavily on union and developer money to finance and operate their campaigns. During the 2014 civic election, the two main political parties in Vancouver collected over $5 million in political contributions.

While there are many who wonder whether this type of legislation will see the light of day given the precarious hold on power the BC Liberal government has these days…I think it will.

That’s because there is a good chance the Green MLAs could support this legislation. What do they have to lose?

The Greens are the only party that don’t rely on union or corporate donations (both cash or in-kind) to operate their campaigns.

From a more practical perspective, there are also only a handful of elected Green Party civic candidates who would in any way be impacted by this type of campaign finance reform. The same can’t be said for municipal candidates linked to either the BC NDP or BC Liberal parties.

As for the BC NDP, they can now ill afford to introduce campaign finance reform which appears to be in any way “watered down” compared to the BC Liberals.

You have to think their legislation, will at a minimum, also include a ban on in-kind donations, restrict non-financial institutions from loaning political parties money and foreign contributors. Anything less would leave them [and the Green Party] open to serious criticism from the BC Liberal opposition caucus, media and the public.

In New Westminster, no doubt the DLC Caucus is very worried how these types of restrictions will impact their electoral chances in 2018. After all, with the financial and operational support of a handful of powerful public sector unions, they were able to win every single seat on Council in 2014 – wiping out all of the independent candidates.

If campaign finance reform is implemented prior to the 2018 civic election in BC, it will certainly level the playing field and allow at least a handful of independent candidates a chance to get elected again in the Royal City. A prospect I think most residents would welcome to at this point.

These are interesting times in B.C. politics…and have no doubt they are about to get even more interesting in the days and months ahead.