Another View: Don’t mind the elephant in the room

Spending on elections comes under the magnifying glass

When the B.C. government tabled its legislation to amend the Election Act in March, it was probably hoping no one would notice. They were in for a bit of a shock.

While much of the focus has been on the provision which would give political parties the names of each and every British Columbian who casts a ballot, the government is also proposing to do away with the pre-campaign period and the spending limits that apply to political parties within it.

The pre-campaign period – unique to B.C. – is the 60-days that falls before the 28-day campaign. The B.C. Court of Appeal has struck down the government’s attempts to limit third-party spending in that 60-day period three times. Evidently, the government got the hint.

The bigger issue isn’t what candidates and parties can spend before the campaign, it’s what they can spend during it. B.C.’s limits are so high they’re pretty well meaningless.

And the government isn’t proposing to do anything about that.

In the 2013 B.C. election a candidate was allowed to spend $73,218 over the pre-campaign period and another $73,218 during the campaign for a total of $146,436. On average, each B.C. riding had 37,370 voters.

In the 2011 federal election, the average spending limit was $88,097 per riding. Average number of voters, 78,758.

Federal limits are adjusted to the number of voters in each riding, with allowances for larger or remote ridings.

Not so in B.C. A candidate running in Stitkine, the riding with the fewest voters (13,845), and a candidate running in Surrey-Cloverdale, the riding with the most (52,817), had exactly the same limit, $146,436.

And both candidates could have spent $12,000 more than a candidate running in Oak Ridges-Markham, Canada’s largest riding with 153,972 voters.

There’s a top up for political parties too. And B.C. isn’t a slouch in that department either.

In 2013, the pre-campaign spending limit for a party was $1.15 million plus $4.6 million for the campaign itself.

Most jurisdictions tie a party’s limit to the number of voters in the ridings where a party is running a candidate. In the 2011 federal election, limits ranged from $62,702 to $21 million.

Not so in B.C. A registered party that ran two candidates could have spent the full $5.715 million that a party running a full slate of 85 candidates was entitled to spend.

Since the limits are so absurdly high, neither the Liberals at $11.7 million nor the NDP at $9.4 million came anywhere close to hitting the overall cap of $18.2 million in 2013.

But they both spent at least $1.1 million more than any political party and all 125 of its candidates did in last year’s Quebec election. Quebec has six million voters, nearly double the number in B.C.

The spending limit in the Quebec election was $1.37 per voter (party and candidate all in). In the Ontario election, it was $2.08 per voter. Both provinces adjust limits for northern or remote ridings and the number of candidates a party runs.

If B.C.’s spending limits are out of whack imagine the impact on the other side of the ledger for parties that want to take full advantage of them.

Last year, the B.C. Liberal party raked in $10.4 million, that’s nearly $1 million more than the federal NDP raised across Canada and half of what the Conservative Party of Canada brought in.

If the pre-campaign period is done away with, the existing spending limit for the campaign itself will still be in place and it won’t be too onerous for a political party to make do on $4.6 million or candidates on $73,218.

Add it all up and a party running a full slate of 87 candidates (two more seats for 2017) will have a limit of roughly $11 million or $3.43 per voter.

That’s $2.7 million more than the Quebec Liberals and their 125 candidates spent in the 2014 Quebec election. And the Quebec Liberals – like their B.C. cousins – were tops in spending.

So what would the limit be in B.C. if the government adopted the Ontario limit? It would drop from $11 million to $6.65 million. Adopt Quebec’s and it drops to $4.4 million.

Would that be such a bad thing?

Dermod Travis

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC. www.integritybc.ca

 

Note: B.C. limits expressed in the commentary were those adjusted by Elections B.C. in 2013 and were the actual limits in place for the general election.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

MISSING: VicPD seeks 33-year-old man last heard from in August

Scott Grier could have been travelling in Alberta, police say

March to protect old growth, stop industrial logging coming to B.C. Legislature

Organizers say they want to give frontline communities a bigger say in nearby logging

New Sooke businesses popping up, amid turbulent market

‘I’m not quitting on these guys’, says company owner

Sooke girl who battled cancer hosting bottle drive for Tour de Rock

Event planned under Sooke’s SEAPARC sign on Sept. 19 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

West Shore RCMP seize rifle, dozens of replica firearms from Langford home

Suspect is 62-year-old man with a lengthy criminal record, say police

Record-breaking 165 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in B.C. in 24-hour period

Fifty-seven people are in hospital battling the novel coronavirus

B.C. releases details of $1.5B economic recovery plan, $660M in business tax incentives

Economic plan includes support for employers, as well as training for workers

‘Not criminally responsible’ hearing slated for man convicted of Abbotsford school stabbing

Gabriel Klein was found guilty in March of killing Letisha Reimer, 13, in 2016

B.C.’s 1st mental health and addictions minister won’t be seeking re-election

MLA Judy Darcy is the fifth cabinet minister not intending to run in the next election

Remote B.C. tourism lodge staffed for coastal clean up instead of wilderness tours

The Great Bear Rainforest is home to exotic wildlife — and international trash

Vancouver’s shuttered aquarium searching for financial solution amid pandemic

The aquarium needs about $1 million a month to cover its costs

Most Read