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B.C. cities set for key vote on future of campaign finance rules Add to ...

Vancouver's mayor and councillors are campaigning this week to clean up election campaigns that they say have turned into wild-west spending sprees.

A resolution, to be voted on Thursday or Friday at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, calls for limits to be set on campaign donations and expenses, along with a ban on out-of-country donations.

"Particularly in our case, spending is out of control," said Councillor Geoff Meggs, whose Vision Vancouver party spent $2-million in the past election, while their main opponents spent nearly the same amount.

They're getting support from a wide variety of mayors and councillors in the halls of the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre who think that it's not just a Vancouver problem.

"When it happens, it perverts the process," said Mayor Barry Janyk of Gibsons, on the Sunshine Coast, who found himself facing an opponent in the election last fall who spent $15,000 to Mr. Janyk's $5,000. "You do not need large quantities of money in small-town elections. It brings an aspect of nastiness to the campaign."

The resolution, which was actually initiated by Vancouver COPE Councillor Ellen Woodsworth, asks the UBCM to petition the province to amend the laws governing B.C. cities. The resolution calls for the province to work with the UBCM to set limits on annual amounts of contributions from individuals or organizations, to limit the money that can be spent annually and to disallow contributions from outside of Canada.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson got some criticism from opponents for accepting donations from American sources for his campaign for the mayoral nomination of his party, Vision Vancouver.

Toronto sets limits of $500 on contributions per source per year to councillor campaigns and $1,000 for mayoral campaigns. There is also a $1-million limit for spending in the mayoral campaign.

While dozens of UBCM motions get passed at the annual conventions every year and go nowhere, this one is expected to have more impact.

When pressed by Vancouver two years ago, former community services minister Ida Chong declined to make those kinds of changes to campaign-finance rules, saying that they didn't have the support of B.C. communities. And Premier Gordon Campbell, during the May provincial election campaign, said he would only consider making changes if it got support at the UBCM.

Simon Fraser University political science professor Kennedy Stewart feels so strongly about the problems being caused by unregulated campaign financing that he spent a week before the convention raising awareness among mayors about the issue.

"This would clean things up," said Prof. Stewart, who surveyed 38 mayors and found 31 in favour of campaign regulation. He pointed out that, while some people think that out-of-control campaign financing is something that only happens in big cities, it's actually showing up in medium-sized cities and even smaller towns.

"Even in the little communities, you sometimes see substantial amounts of donations," Prof. Stewart said. "Candidates accept it because they think 'If I don't take this, then my opponent will.'"

In spite of that, many small-town mayors have said they're not in favour of the resolution and don't intend to support it.

"For 75 per cent of the province, it makes no sense," said David Wilks, the mayor of Sparwood in southeastern B.C. "If the big cities are having a problem and need to take up a fight, then take it up, but don't involve the rest of the province."

While he said the issue of big campaign donations has never arisen in Sparwood - people spend anywhere from zero to $300 on their campaigns - he doesn't want to institute a set of rules that might be a problem in the future.

Mayor Will Hansma of Spallumcheen said the same. "I don't have a problem with the system the way it is right now."

Vancouver Councillor George Chow said he's been hearing that a lot, along with comments from some politicians that they don't want to limit donations from Americans, since many of them have American friends or have part-time American residents in their cities.

He's not predicting how the vote will go. "I think it's going to be a tough one."

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