No spending limits in place for Vancouver byelection

Minister says goal is to have new rules for next year’s municipal vote

The provincial minister responsible for municipal affairs says rules will not be in place to prevent Vancouver candidates in the Oct. 14 byelection from raising and spending as much money as they want to get elected.

Selina Robinson, who is also the province’s housing minister, said in an email to the Courier that the NDP government is working on new campaign finance rules that would apply to local government elections. She said “the goal” is to have rules in place for the October 2018 municipal elections.

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“Our government is committed to local government finance reform,” she said. “I have asked my staff to prepare options and will be hearing back from them shortly. I have heard and appreciate Vancouver's particular interest in campaign finance reform and we recognize that reforms around contribution limits and corporate and union donations are important issues both at the provincial and local government levels.”

The NDP minority government recommitted in its Sept. 8 throne speech to reform campaign finance laws to eliminate corporate and union donations, put strict limits on individual contributions and ensure only B.C. residents be allowed to donate to provincial parties.

Rules for local government elections were not spelled out in the throne speech. When Robinson was in opposition, she pushed for a ban on union and corporate donations and told the Courier in June – prior to her being appointed minister — that new rules would “likely” be in place for the October 2018 municipal elections.

“We have consistently been looking at doing that,” she said at the time.

Robinson’s response to the Courier this week came after Vision Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer sent the minister a letter Sept. 6 reminding her of the need to have new rules in place by January. In her letter, Reimer emphasized the urgency of the NDP government to pass legislation this fall.

“I know you understand how important this issue is and the work you did in opposition to raise the issue in the [B.C.] legislature and with your colleagues over the past four years was instrumental in building public understanding of how critical this issue is for Vancouver,” Reimer wrote. “The urgency of this issue at this point is that for reforms to matter in the 2018 general election in Vancouver they must be in place by January 1, 2018 when campaigning can officially begin. In order to facilitate implementation by that time, this functionally means that the changes will need to be approved by the B.C. government by this October.”

Over the past decade, the city’s two mainstream parties — Vision Vancouver and the NPA — have run million-dollar campaigns, or more, to get their candidates elected. Both parties are expected in the Oct. 14 byelection campaign to outspend other parties, including the Green Party and OneCity.

Judy Graves, OneCity’s council candidate, said the party doesn’t take money from developers and therefore is “not beholden to the extremely wealthy.” But Graves acknowledged that “having tons of money is always a big advantage.”

She didn’t reveal the party’s budget for the campaign. OneCity is also running Carrie Bercic and Eric Jaaf for school board.

“Having great policy that will appeal to Vancouver voters is an advantage that we haven’t seen for a while,” she said in rolling out her party’s housing plan Tuesday. It includes a “luxury property surtax,” fixed rents on city-owned rentals, a speculator’s tax and city-wide inclusionary zoning to create more affordable housing.

Pete Fry, the Green Party’s council candidate, also said his party doesn’t accept donations from developers. He didn’t reveal the Greens’ budget for a campaign that includes himself and school board candidates Janet Fraser, Estrellita Gonzalez and Judy Zaichkowsky.

“We’ll spend what we can get,” said Fry, describing the campaign as “grassroots.” He said the Greens ran a successful campaign in the 2014 civic election on less than $100,000 and elected four of its seven candidates, including council candidate Adriane Carr who topped the polls. “I think we can do more with less.”

mhowell@vancourier.com

@Howellings

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