Winning fair and square

By Dermod Travis

All three parties in the B.C. legislature now support a ban on corporate and union donations, as well as setting a cap on personal contributions.

It's that last one that gets tricky. What's the right cap?

Perhaps B.C.'s new government should rip a page out of Alberta's NDP playbook.

Legislate all points of agreement this fall and set a personal cap that's painful for the parties, with an agreement that it will be revisited following a public consultation on a host of related electoral issues. 

It would be a mistake to set a permanent cap right out of the gate, based solely on B.C.'s past fundraising results. 

The province's Wild West political culture has left a distorted reality of donations and party spending, especially when compared to rest of Canada. 

A bit of context on party spending: in 2016, the B.C. Liberal party spent $12.2 million on such things as advertising ($1.18 million), research and polling ($956,803) and bank charges ($164,328).

Meanwhile the NDP scraped by with $5.2 million. 

Back east, the Ontario Liberals spent $6.98 million in 2016 and the Progressive Conservatives ($7.6 million). Compared to B.C., Ontario has about three times the number of registered voters. 

And this is where Alberta's approach comes in handy. 

The bill banning corporate and union donations – passed unanimously – took a two part approach to the issue.

The second part included public consultations on a revised personal limit. Unlike B.C., Alberta already had a cap in place before Notley. The consultation lowered it from $15,000 to $4,000.

Alberta also lowered spending limits for elections. B.C. might want to do the same.

In the 2015 federal election, the overall limit in B.C. for a party running a full-slate of candidates was $5.73 million. For the 2017 B.C. election the limit was $11.63 million.

There's no shortage of other issues for a consultation to consider.

For instance, most jurisdictions set candidate and party limits by taking into account the number of registered voters in a riding and any special circumstances that might exist. Not so in B.C. The limit for all 87 ridings was the same, $77,674.

The party limit ($4.88 million) also didn't vary, whether a party ran 10 candidates or 87. It does vary federally.

Then there's the tiny matter of the Election Act not adequately addressing the possibility of a minority government.

You may have missed it, but the loud sigh of relief heard across Victoria when Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon didn't dissolve the legislature and call an election, likely emanated from Elections B.C.

Imagine all the nuts and bolts that go into organizing an election: offices for the returning officers, polling stations, ramping up staff, telephones, ballots, mail-outs, printing, etc. 

Now imagine doing it in 28 days – without a head start – and on the heels of just having done it.

The length of an election campaign in B.C. is 28 days, not a minimum of 28 days.

Organizing an election is far easier when you know the date four years in advance. 

– Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.


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