Shining A Light on Municipal Elections

I read with interest last week two articles by Vancouver Sun reporters Lori Culbert and Chad Skelton who explore what they argue is a lack of transparency related to municipal campaign financing and the ability of those with money and influence to tilt the outcomes of municipal and local government elections. It appears that while the majority of voters tend to "ignore" municipal elections, Culbert and Skelton suggest that "those with money pay close attention." To support this argument, the Vancouver Sun created a database of Lower Mainland campaign donations that "reveals that a relatively small group of deep- pocketed donors wields disproportionate influence on the financing of municipal races, accounting for a huge share of the money raised by local candidates and parties."

But who are these well-heeled supporters? Well, it appears that many of these donors "have direct business with the city councils they help elect -- mainly developers hoping for zoning changes..." The data base also reveals that in some instances, union groups who represent municipal employees also donate to municipal election campaigns. Data compiled by the Vancouver Sun illustrates that over "4,500 businesses and individuals made donations to the city-hall candidates in Metro Vancouver in the lead up to the November 2008 election. Yet just 50 of them (or 1 per cent of all donors) accounted for nearly a third of all the money raised."

We know that campaign funding transparency exists for provincial and federal election campaigns and that all the information is available to the public online. But in the case of municipal elections, transparency seems to be a problem. The Sun reporters state that "such transparency has never existed at the municipal level in B.C. Some city halls put campaign-finance data online, but only in the form of scanned copies of disclosure forms filled out by the candidates." They suggest that other municipalities don't put anything on their websites at all, forcing voters "to visit city hall in person to flip through a binder of the forms."

One only has to pick up the newspaper these days to see stories about the potential for conflict of interest, political manipulation, questionable practices and poor judgment related to local government and its decisions about land use. Knowing which organizations, businesses and individuals fund municipal candidates and their campaigns is therefore, in my opinion, critical information for voters, especially when you consider that local government spends about 80% or more of its time either making significant land use decisions or making significant policy about land use decisions. After all, there is a lot of money at stake.

I believe that voters should know who really drives the bus and just where the bus is going. As voters and taxpayers, I urge you to stay informed and to get to know your candidates at election time and in between. Ask yourselves, "Who represents the community and how grass roots are they?" Pay a visit to the North Saanich municipal hall at 1620 Mills Rd. and ask to see the financial disclosure statements filed by all the candidates who ran in the last municipal election.

And for more information on the Vancouver Sun articles, please visit For more information about local government and municipal elections, please visit