The New Democrat-Green government in Victoria has pledged to ban corporate and union donations and to impose strict maximum-donation limits at the provincial level. Upon the announcement of the two-party pact (and, moreover, after the BC Liberals’ last-gasp Throne Speech, which delivered a flip-flop promise of campaign-financing reform), I feared that the new government would “double down” and automatically impose the same restrictions at the municipal level – something that I think would have a catastrophic impact on local-level politics.
I am pleased to report, however, that the leader of one of the two parties in the new political compact, Green leader Andrew Weaver, has, in response to a letter from Coquitlam Council urging caution in proceeding with such changes at the local level (a letter that was sent at my request and supported by all but one of my Council colleagues), issued a statement promising there will be “careful deliberation” before action is taken.
And thank goodness for that. As I have declared several times over the past few years and, moreover, have written in formal submissions to the provincial government on the matter, stringent donation regulations would have several unintended, negative consequences, the most worrisome of which is that they would severely handicap unaffiliated (i.e., independent) and new candidates, while at the same time giving an unfair advantage to political machines, parties, and those candidates who are affiliated with organizations that have a large membership base, such as labour unions. Please read one of my earlier blogs on the issue for a more complete analysis.
In Coquitlam’s letter to the leaders of the three political parties in the legislature, our mayor, Richard Stewart, pointed out that donors to municipal campaigns do not receive a tax credit for any portion of their donation, making the financing of said campaigns more difficult than those at the Provincial or Federal level.
Mayor Stewart continued that, In light of this, many candidates rely upon business or other organizational donations to support their campaigns to make up for the gap in individual contributions.
He also said that Coquitlam Council fears that removing this mechanism of support could lead to a dearth of candidates seeking local elected office, thereby increasing the power of incumbency and limiting voices from across the political spectrum. As well, he worried that such changes may also encourage an increase in slate politics and affiliated councils as candidates seek to bolster their support through a variety of labour and other organizations.
As far as I am aware, Dr. Weaver is the only one of the three leaders to respond to our letter. Here is the complete text of that response:
“Thank you for your correspondence of June 9 regarding municipal campaign finance reform. I apologize for the delay in responding.
“I appreciate the concerns you raised regarding the effects of campaign finance reform at the Municipal level. I share your view that our democratic systems should be structured to support a wide range of candidates stepping forward to run for office, from a diversity of backgrounds and representing a diversity of views.
“In my view, campaign finance reform at both the Provincial and Municipal levels is an essential way to strengthen our democracy and reduce the influence of special interests on our elections and on government decision-making. I believe that this reform can be undertaken in such a way that ensures that a wide range of independent candidates feel able to run for political office.
“I agree that there must be careful deliberation by government on the impacts of any legislative change, and ensuring that government undertakes this reform in a comprehensive and deliberative way is a top priority of my caucus colleagues and myself.
“Thank you again for writing on this crucial issue. If you have specific thoughts about how reforms might be best undertaken to address your concerns, my office would be delighted to hear from you.”
I appreciate Dr. Weaver's thoughtfulness in dealing with this important issue, and look forward to future communication with him and his party on the subject.