Campaign Finance Rules Need a Rethink

As the municipal elections gear up for the final push towards Election Day this Saturday, one controversy has been making more noise than others. Campaign finance rules or, more specifically, the loopholes they come with, are under scrutiny. Deservedly so.

The most visible face in this issue has been Vancouver mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart, who recently stepped down as MP for Burnaby South. Suspicion about his volunteers has spiked since the release of a phone call between Mike Jagger, a friend of Stewart’s main competitor in the race Ken Sim, and Stewart’s campaign manager, Neil Monckton, in which Mr. Monckton appears to threaten Mr. Jagger for questioning the involvement of organized union support in Mr. Stewart’s campaign.

Further questions have been raised by Bob Mackin of The Breaker, when he tweeted information showing that CUPE Local 15 has posted on its website that “Any members who would like to be “booked off” their regular full time position to help elect our endorsed candidates should forward the following information to Sally Bankiner at CUPE Local 15 who will assist with arrangements.”  As Mackin notes, CUPE has been working with the Vancouver and District Labour Council, which has endorsed Stewart. This essentially amounts to CUPE Local 15 paying Mr. Stewart’s volunteers for him. Further to this is the fact that CUPE Local 15 is not a registered third party.

Though at this time, nothing Mr. Stewart, nor any of the above organizations have done seems to be illegal or contravene the campaign finance laws per se, voters have to ask themselves how they feel about politicians once again defending their actions by saying they aren’t doing anything technically illegal, while approving of actions which clearly violate the intent of the law. Mr. Stewart, of all people, should be the most concerned by this as he lectured others about transparency, yet has only dodged and evaded questions when any allegations come his way.

The campaign finance laws in BC were changed after the last provincial election as one of the conditions Andrew Weaver set for the NDP to received Green Party support. We can applaud Mr. Weaver for his pushing hard for campaign finance reform. Limiting the influence of big money in government is a laudable and necessary goal. We are fortunate in Canada not to have the “Cash is King” situation we observe in American politics.

The BC law, as the current municipal situation illustrates, is flawed. It was meant to eliminate the influence of large personal donors and corporations from having undue influence on government. It was not meant allow for their replacement by large union and other institutional donations in kind or otherwise, unless of course it was. Our Federal system of campaign finances, while not perfect, is strict and should have been a model for BC: $1500 personal donation limits. End of story. Sadly, this did not happen.

As to what will happen with the municipal elections, politicians too often think voters don’t pay attention to the minutia of a thing like campaign finances, so it doesn’t matter in the end. In my experience voters have keen noses and pick up on what smells. This stinks.

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