Skip to main content

B.C.’s new campaign-finance laws for city elections allowed too much unregulated and unreported third-party spending in the 2018 civic elections, says a special task force from the City of Vancouver.

So, the task force has made four key recommendations for changes that would help prevent problems that emerged during the 2018 election, which operated for the first time under new provincial rules that banned corporate and union donations to candidates or parties, but left doors open for them to contribute in other ways.

“We’re trying to balance things,” said Shoni Fields, one of the five members of the Independent Elections Task Force. “We do see there is some appetite to fix this.”

The new laws, brought in by the province just in time for the October, 2018, civic elections to deal with what was sometimes called a “wild west” of campaign finance, allowed developer Peter Wall to give $85,000 to pay for billboards supporting one Vancouver mayoral candidate, with no limit or requirement that the donation be disclosed because it occurred before the designated one-month campaign period. It was only revealed in a Globe and Mail story.

To this day, the public doesn’t know who paid for ad-style videos that circulated in Surrey with negative information about some candidates before the official campaign started, one month before the election.

As well, unions and business lobby groups were able to use what is called “own funds" to spend money for campaigning that would have otherwise been prohibited.

Donations to Vancouver’s top five civic parties dropped 70 per cent under the new rules, compared with the 2014 election, the report said. In that election, the major parties spent between between $2.5-million and $3-million.

The task force had four priority recommendations.

One was that the campaign period be extended to at least the day after Labour Day in the 2022 election and beyond, which would make the reporting period seven weeks instead of four.

A second was that donations be reported before the election – not three months later as is now the case.

The third is that the use of own funds – by which third parties can direct funds from non-eligible sources without disclosure – be prohibited. And the fourth was that the individual donation limit of $1,200 a person applies to the total given anywhere in the campaign period, whether from an individual candidate, a party, or a third-party campaign.

The report highlighted many of the concerns raised during the short 2018 campaign period, as everyone grappled with the new laws.

It noted the Vancouver and District Labour Council, the B.C. Real Estate Association and several firefighters unions all declared use of own funds and, therefore, didn’t disclose any contributors, even though records showed that groups such as that sometimes spent thousands in past elections.

As well, it said there was a lot of confusion over whether staff time counted, such as the $25,000 worth of staff hours contributed through the labour council.

Another problem that emerged was that all third parties were treated the same, with a $150,000 cap on spending, whether the third party was a single wealthy person or a large organization with many members. That gave “the appearance of inequity” in how much influence a single donor could have, the report said.

The task-force report is being presented to councillors on Monday.

The group also urged Vancouver’s new council to act on its priority recommendation from after the previous election, which was a call to set up a citizens’ assembly that would look at the best form of proportional representation for civic elections.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe