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Pictures of Vancouver candidate Hector Bremner were gone from city billboards and subway ads as of Saturday, the day the province’s civic-election campaign period officially began.

The controversial ads had been up for almost a month and had generated a lot of questions about who was paying for them and whether they were legal.

Last week, the lawyer for major developer Peter Wall voluntarily confirmed that he had paid the $85,000 bill for the campaign.

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A billboard for mayoral candidate Hector Bremner is seen in Vancouver on Sept. 14, 2018.Rafal Gerszak

None of that money has to be accounted for under the province’s new election laws.

Sept. 22 was when third parties had to officially register and stick within expense limits under the new rules for civic elections set by the NDP provincial government last year – rules that are causing much confusion.

The rules were meant to end what was viewed as a Wild West of campaign fundraising in B.C., where the major parties in Vancouver were getting and spending more than $2-million apiece. But the new laws have left many gray areas.

Mr. Wall and his group, Vancouverites for Affordable Housing, will not have to register with Elections BC if the ads are all down, as they appeared to be on Saturday.

And his spending on the ad campaign won’t have to be accounted for. It would only have to be disclosed if the ads ran into the official Sept. 22-Oct. 20 campaign period, says the communications manager for Elections BC.

“If an ad runs before the campaign period starts and continues to run during the campaign period, the entire production cost of the ad is an expense of the third-party sponsor subject to the expense limit,” Andrew Watson said. “The transmission cost of the ad can be pro-rated based on how long the ad is up during the campaign period.”

Third-party donors who exceed the limit can be charged criminally and be subject to a fine, Mr. Watson said.

"Sponsors that are individuals who exceed their expense limit must pay a penalty of twice the amount by which they exceeded the limit,” he wrote in an e-mail. "Sponsors that are organizations must pay a penalty of five times the amount by which they exceeded the limit.”

As of Sunday, there were 19 sponsor organizations registered as third parties with Elections BC, including several unions and other groups advocating for particular issues such as housing on the North Shore and the SkyTrain in Surrey.

There were three sponsor individuals registered.

Third parties can’t spend more than $150,000 overall in the province, and there are limits on what they can spend on an individual candidate. In Vancouver, it’s just over $10,000 for any council candidate.

They can communicate with the campaigns and even do volunteer work with them, Mr. Watson said. They just can’t co-ordinate when it comes to ad campaigns. However, those rules only apply in the official campaign period that started on Sept. 22. They don’t cover the months before that.

However, another kind of third-party contribution does count prior to Sept. 22, Mr. Watson said.

That is the union activities during the campaign that support various parties and candidates.

So the time and money that the Vancouver District and Labour Council spent on mediating among the city’s four progressive parties – Coalition of Progressive Electors, OneCity, Green Party, and Vision Vancouver – will have to be accounted for in their campaign donations, he said.

The council brought together the four parties to get them to agree to running slates with fewer people so that there wouldn't be too much overlap among the groups, to try to increase the chances of progressive candidates getting elected.

It also endorsed candidates for the Vancouver races.

The same would hold true for the New Westminster and District Labour Council, which endorses candidates in 14 communities in the Lower Mainland.

For example, it has endorsed New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté and his non-party slate. It has also endorsed challenger Mike Hurley for mayor instead of its usual choice, Derek Corrigan, but endorsed the council candidates on Mr. Corrigan’s team.

However, Mr. Watson said, there are no limits on the money that a union can spend in the precampaign period.

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