New election spending rules appear to have major impact
Published Wednesday, October 10, 2018 6:23PM PDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 10, 2018 7:04PM PDT
With about 10 days to go before the local elections, you’d be forgiven if it wasn’t top of mind. Yes, there are lawn signs, posters and pamphlets, but what you may not be seeing or hearing: ads broadcast on television or radio.
“What I'm hearing from all the campaigns is we just don't have the money, for, for example, for television ads,” says Frances Bula. She’s the Globe and Mail’s urban affairs contributor and long-time watcher of Vancouver politics. She adds, “There used to be television ads for civic campaigns. We’re not seeing any this time, and not many radio ads.”
The reason we’re seeing a lower-key campaign is because of new campaign spending rules. Limits are set based on population size. In Vancouver, a mayoral candidate can spend $210,174.60, while someone looking for a council or park board position can expense up to $107,793.12.
According to financial disclosure documents posted on Elections BC’s website, in 2014, both Vision Vancouver and the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) spent about $200,000 on TV advertising alone. That number was for all candidates, but shows how the days of big spending are over.
Still, questions remain about the role of big money in the campaigns.
In 2017, the NDP declared it was putting an end to the "wild west” of political fundraising as part of its bid to limit unions and corporations donations. The goal was a more level playing field, but some people are wondering if there are workarounds.
“It is true there's a lot of concern about what they're calling grey money seeping in,” adds Bula.
Before the campaign even started, mysterious billboards popped up promoting Hector Bremner. It took months before a Vancouver developer would admit he bankrolled them. Now, during the campaign, a union is promoting Kennedy Stewart. In both cases, Elections BC says there appears to be no wrongdoing. Still, there are complaints the spirit of the rules aren’t being followed and B.C. Premier John Horgan says his government will take another look at the rules, but after this campaign.
While the concerns about grey areas persist, there’s also concern about potential unintended consequences from the new rules. A campaign that’s less visible, coupled with an extremely long list of candidates and a shorter election period, say experts, could hurt voter turnout.