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Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson walks past new household green bins used to recycle food scraps as he arrives for an announcement in Vancouver, April 11, 2013. The small bins are to be used in homes and then emptied into larger bins that will be collected by the city weekly. (DARRYL DYCK For The Globe and Mail)
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson walks past new household green bins used to recycle food scraps as he arrives for an announcement in Vancouver, April 11, 2013. The small bins are to be used in homes and then emptied into larger bins that will be collected by the city weekly. (DARRYL DYCK For The Globe and Mail)

Recycling, campaign-spending limits hot topics at municipal conference Add to ...

The city’s past election saw campaign spending soar to a high-altitude mark of $6-million, an amount that both local politicians and residents think is outrageous and bad for democracy.

So those politicians are going to this week’s annual gathering of B.C. councillors and mayors to urge them to support a motion asking the province to put limits on campaign financing just for Vancouver.

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But, as much as that would be supported locally, it’s not assured that the rest of the province will be on board.

“It’s a tough ask, but we’re very much hoping they can see the benefit it would have for a city with a problem like ours,” said Vancouver Councillor Andrea Reimer.

The city has tried several times unsuccessfully to get support from the Union of B.C. Municipalities to bring in campaign-finance rules that would ban corporate and union donations, as well as impose limits on how much any one person can give.

Those are the rules that the federal government brought into place several years ago, as did the City of Toronto.

But in B.C., there are no provincial limits set on how much aspiring councillors or mayors can spend or collect.

That creates acute problems in Vancouver, which has a system of electing councillors “at large” to serve the whole city, rather than by ward, as is the case in much of the rest of the country. That has produced campaigns where most serious candidates have to run with a slate and that slate needs to advertise heavily to get the word out to all 600,000-plus Vancouverites.

Ms. Reimer’s party, Vision Vancouver, has seen enormous donations from developers and construction companies, sometimes in the $50,000 to $60,000 range.

The party’s main competitor, the Non-Partisan Association, saw one of its backers supply almost a million dollars in the past election.

“You need rules so no one entity or corporation can have influence or be perceived to have influence,” said Ms. Reimer. As well, the current system discourages many people from running when they see the amount of money involved.

But many other municipalities are worried that rules brought in just for Vancouver would bleed over to them eventually, even though Vancouver operates under a different piece of provincial legislation than all other B.C. cities.

“It’s always the question of whether that’s going to be the leading edge,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie.

He, like others, doesn’t believe that the complex set of rules needed for Vancouver’s unique situation would be workable in other cities.

That is just one of the difficult issues facing the 1,600 council members who will be attending the convention throughout the week.

Many of them are up in arms about a new system of recycling that is about to be put in place in B.C. That system is forcing them to decide whether they are going to continue to have their own city workers or long-established contractors collect their recyclables or turn the whole job over to a new industry group.

It’s also one that they say could end up costing taxpayers more and produce less recycling.

The issue has exploded in the past week, as several municipalities have refused to sign contracts with Multi Materials B.C. (MMBC), an organization that has come into being because all businesses in the province are going to have to pay to recycle their packaging as of next March.

The convention is going to hear an emergency resolution on the topic.

MMBC has proposed three options to municipalities. They can agree to have MMBC pick up all the recyclable garbage in their cities. They can continue to do it themselves, but deliver everything they collect to MMBC for recycling or disposal, and MMBC would pay them something for the collection service. Or they can refuse to have anything to do with MMBC and collect and dispose of everything themselves, at their own cost.

Several of the region’s biggest municipalities say the MMBC contract terms will end up costing taxpayers a bundle, because the fees the association has said it will pay to cities doesn’t cover the cost of picking up recycling.

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