The B.C. government will review its new campaign finance laws after next month’s civic elections following an outcry over gaps in the rules on third-party advertising and transparency of donations.
Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson said her government moved to get big money out of politics in British Columbia and address unfettered fundraising, but she acknowledged changes may be needed.
“There’s certainly more room to make sure that the elections are as fair as they can be. And we have committed to review everything around this election cycle,” she said on Wednesday.
The Globe and Mail has highlighted what critics have called loopholes in the new law. Prominent Vancouver developer Peter Wall was able to anonymously donate $85,000 that was used to erect billboards in support of a pro-development candidate. The rules requiring third parties to declare their donations did not apply until a month before the Oct. 20 vote.
As well, The Globe has reported that independent candidates have been able to form unofficial groups without the constraints on donations they would face if they were running for the same party.
Ms. Robinson noted that the civic elections are the first test of the new law, and the government is open to changes. The law bans corporate and union donations and limits individuals to donating no more than $1,200 to a party or candidate.
They also restrict how much third parties can spend on advertising during a campaign period.
“This is the first time that there is election expenses as well as campaign contribution limits,” Ms. Robinson said. "So everything is up for review and up for consideration to make these kinds of elections as fair as possible.”
The new law does not require candidates to disclose their donors until 90 days after the election, although some candidates have volunteered to do it earlier.
Dermod Travis, executive director of Integrity BC, a group that monitors campaign financing issues, said all parties donating and spending money should release all information.
“It would go a long way to helping people have a bit more confidence in the system, that there are not bad surprises … after [voters] cast their ballots.”
However, Mr. Travis said the system is better now than in the 2014 elections. “We do have some restrictions in place. The corporate, union money is now out of the system,” he said, adding there has been a healthy debate on third parties.
The Elections BC website is listing of third-party sponsors, organizations and individuals who have registered to speak out during the campaign.
Many are labour organizations such as the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, or BCGEU, the Canadian Labour Congress and the B.C. division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
In a statement, Stephanie Smith, president of the BCGEU, said the organization is intent on making the case for affordable housing.
“One of the big issues for our members in all sectors was that the cost of housing is increasing exponentially faster than wages," Ms. Smith said. "It’s a huge problem for our members.”
An organization listed as 0888436 BC Ltd. is the registration number for the incorporation of a consulting company set up by lawyer Derek Palaschuk, who said in an interview and statement that he will support Vancouver mayoral candidate Wai Young and council candidate Glen Chernen.
Citizens for My Sea to Sky Country is listed to help make the case against a liquefied natural gas (LNG) operation in the Squamish region.
Organization co-founder Tracey Saxby said on Wednesday that the group, which often uses online advertising to express concerns about the environmental impact of the Woodfibre LNG project, will not endorse candidates.
With a report from Wendy Stueck