Will big money ever be gone from civic campaigns in Vancouver?

Two government ministers weigh in, remain coy about next steps

12th and Cambie

If I were able to get all three politicians I spoke to this week in the same room, then maybe I’d have a more solid answer for you on whether campaign finance reform will ever come to Vancouver and the rest of B.C.’s municipalities.

That way I could lock the door and not allow Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson, Attorney General David Eby or Vision Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer to leave until they told me whether rules to get the big money out of local politics will be in place by next fall’s municipal election.

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Actually, that’s not fair to Reimer, who doesn’t have the power to make those rules happen. But I mention her because she again brought up campaign finance reform at council’s first meeting back after the summer break.

That was on Tuesday.

As I reported last week, Reimer has been on the government’s case for years, requesting that unions and corporations be banned from donating money to civic candidates and parties. She has had the support of present and previous councillors – from all political stripes – to get this done and more, including imposing spending limits.

Multi-million dollar campaigns have become the norm in Vancouver, with Vision Vancouver and the NPA receiving millions over the years from unions, developers, corporations and the richy rich. The Green Party and others can’t compete with such political machines. It’s even worse for independent candidates.

So what news did Reimer bring to council Tuesday?

Well, she told her fellow politicians that she sent a letter to Robinson requesting campaign finance reform. She also said she had a “very good discussion” with the minister. And, and, and…what did Robinson say?

“I remain quite optimistic that we might have campaign finance reform – sorry, not that we might -- that we will have campaign finance reform rules in place by the end of this year,” said Reimer, before urging councillors to emphasize the need for such reform if they happen to bump into Robinson or Eby at next week’s Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in Vancouver.  

Optimistic was not a word Robinson or Eby used when I spoke to them. On Monday, Eby took questions at a newser on the government’s plan to introduce a bill to ban union and corporate donations from provincial campaigns. I asked him why the bill didn’t include civic campaigns.

“This bill is aimed squarely at the provincial level,” he said from Victoria. “We are very aware of the request that’s been made by Vancouver city council multiple times for reform of campaign finance rules at the municipal level. We are still working on that. I am hopeful that we will be able to address that issue, but this bill will not be the bill that does that.”

The next day I spoke to Robinson. Our conversation was more about modular housing, but I asked her about campaign finance reform and whether rules would be in place before civic campaigns begin in the new year.

“It’s one of the things I’m looking at. I did get Andrea Reimer’s letter and it’s one of the things I’m looking at.”

I reminded her of multi-million dollar campaigns being the norm in Vancouver.

“I know. It’s the Wild West there, too.”

So it’s something “you’re looking at,” I said, but will rules be in place for the municipal election in October 2018?

“It’s something that I’m looking at, Mike.”

Maybe we’ll get a better look at what Robinson is “looking at” at next week’s Union of B.C. Municipalities conference, where provincial governments have historically delivered good news to their municipal counterparts.

Robinson is scheduled to make a speech at 2 p.m. Wednesday.





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