COMMENT: Let's get ready to vote!
On Saturday, British Columbians will head to the polls to choose more than 2,000 local officials for councils, school boards, regional districts, parks boards and the Islands Trust.
Considering that local councils in B.C. spend more than $8 billion a year of our money, it’s a bit of a paradox that most voters – if it’s anything like last time – will find something else to do this Saturday. In 2011, some communities saw turnouts of less than 30 per cent. In Vancouver, 34.6 per cent of voters cast a ballot.
So maybe it’s time to spark some inter-provincial rivalry for bragging rights.
In Winnipeg, more than 50 per cent of the city’s 468,713 voters cast a ballot last month. In Toronto, turnout exceeded 60 per cent. The last time that level was reached in a B.C. election was in 1991.
One thing is different. Vancouver’s municipal parties have released their donor lists before voters head to the polls, not three months after. Kudos.
Last week, Vision Vancouver reported $2.3 million in donations. Corporate donations accounted for 60.8 per cent of the haul and unions 14 per cent.
The NPA reported donations of $2.1 million and the second largest donation in Vancouver’s history at $360,000 from Peter Armstrong’s Great Canadian Railtour Company. All in, Armstrong has donated $470,000 to the NPA through additional personal and corporate cheques.
That’s enough to have covered Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s 2013 re-election budget, with $79,000 to spare. Calgary has about a quarter of a million more voters than Vancouver.
Armstrong could have covered the spending limit of two candidates running for mayor of Winnipeg and still have $67,000 left over. Winnipeg has roughly 20,000 more voters than Vancouver.
Or he could have covered the $386,556 spending limit for a candidate running to be mayor of Mississauga, a ceiling described by one writer at the Mississauga News as “astronomical.”
One small wrinkle: in Calgary, Armstrong’s generosity would be limited to $5,000, in Winnipeg $1,500 and it would have to be a personal cheque, and in Mississauga he’d be cut off at $750.
Don’t be fooled by local politicians who like to tell you that obscene campaign spending is a Vancouver phenomenon. They’re wrong.
In 2011, Victoria mayor Dean Fortin spent $76,722 in his successful bid for re-election. In a city with 65,468 voters that worked out to $1.17 per voter. Apply that level of spending to the number of voters in Vancouver and it’s $490,100.
Or consider Regina with more than twice the number of voters than Victoria. Last time out the expense limit in that city was $62,635 for a mayoralty candidate or 39.8 cents per voter.
Meanwhile over at the ledge, the B.C. government thought the midst of the 2014 civic election was a dandy time to hold public hearings on new campaign finance rules for 2018. Go figure.
Most communities in B.C. don’t have municipal parties, which may be a good thing, but they’re not short of slates. In the coming days one group or another may ask you to vote for one slate or another. In theory sounds great: one council, all happy campers, all headed in the same direction.
But would you really want one party to hold all the seats in the B.C. legislature? It’s a tougher hill to climb, only two parties have ever done it in Canada: PEI’s Walter Lea achieved the feat in 1935 and New Brunswick’s Frank McKenna in 1987. Neither did it twice.
So why the push for it at the local level?
Look at all the candidates, check their websites, visit their Facebook pages, google them to find out more about their positions on issues before they became a candidate and how they interact with people online. Might give you a clue about how they’ll interact with constituents if elected.
Don’t overlook someone who may bring something to the table, even if you don’t share all their policy views.
Think of it as ‘the best and brightest slate.’
And if you believe it’s time for some house cleaning at city hall don’t overlook the power of incumbency. Thirty-eight incumbents sought re-election as city councillors in Toronto last month and 37 were re-elected.
But choose wisely, because this time you’re stuck with them for four years.
Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC. www.integritybc.ca