Opinion Column

Time to rein in Wild West mentality of civic elections


When it comes to B.C. municipal election campaigns, Bill Bennett, minister of community, sport and cultural development, once referred to them as "a bit of the Wild West."

In 2010, he co-authored the Local Government Elections Taskforce Report. It included 31 recommendations to transform civic politics into a more respectable affair.

But prior to implementing his agenda, Bennett, known to his constituents as "Kootenay Bill," was shuffled into another cabinet portfolio. As a consequence, no major reforms were undertaken in time for the 2011 municipal elections.

However, those hoping for significant changes in the way we run our civic campaigns may have a reason to be hopeful again. That's because Premier Christy Clark promoted Bennett back to the cabinet table and gave him responsibility for reforming civic elections in the province.

Depending on whether the legislature sits again this fall, we may well see a number of his previous recommendations make their way back on to Victoria's agenda.

According to Bennett's report, "over 1660 elected positions on over 250 government bodies are filled through local elections. In 2008, over 3,050 candidates ran for these offices." Therefore, any kind of rule changes stands to impact a lot of current and aspiring politicians around the province.

If the government is serious about modernizing civic elections, it should address a number of key issues soon. They include introducing campaign spending limits, regulating third-party advertisers and making Elections BC the official watchdog.

There is also several other items worth considering, but not referenced in the government's report. They include the establishment of a civic lobbyist registry. After all, if a councillor votes on a multi-million dollar land development, wouldn't it be nice to know if they just received a sizeable donation from said developer?

While Victoria is at it, they should also ban foreign donations. As we've come to discover, foreign donors have curiously developed a newfound interest in the outcome of Vancouver elections.

Civic parties and elected officials should also be forced to publicly report all of their income and expenses on an annual basis. In a perfect world, that would incorporate an online searchable database of donors accessible to anyone with a computer connection.

Kootney Bill may be back in the saddle, but it will take a lot of old-fashioned rustling to tame the Wild West known as our municipal electoral system.

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