Kitimat Plebiscite

Why Super Natural British Columbia Still Has Super Pathetic Campaign Finance Laws

Imagine having to read through 10,000 written comments on the same topic. It would probably be a touch on the tedious side — yet that’s exactly what a task force did back in 2010 before issuing 31 recommendations to reform our province’s municipal elections.

The task force included three Liberal MLAs and four elected officials from towns and cities across British Columbia.

What was the most egregious problem they found during their investigation? Campaign finance rules.

In a nutshell, local elections in B.C. have been the Wild West of campaign finance — with candidates allowed to take donations from anyone and spend as much as they like.

Seven-Year Delay On B.C. Local Election Spending Limits ‘Disappointing’: Member of Task Force

A member of the task force that issued recommendations calling on the B.C. government to reform local elections four years ago says it’s disappointing that limits on campaign spending have now been put on hold until at least 2018.

In the absence of spending limits, candidates and third parties — including companies such as Enbridge and Kinder Morgan — can spend unlimited amounts of money in this November's municipal elections.

I’m a little disappointed that some of the recommendations on expenditures will have to wait until the next election,” Robert Hobson, a Kelowna city councillor for 26 years and past president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM), told DeSmog Canada.

We certainly would have liked to have seen the recommendations implemented before the 2011 elections.”

Perhaps in a sign of what's to come, during the recent Kitimat plebiscite Enbridge spent at least $22,000, or about $4.50 per eligible voter — 30 times as much as the company could have spent per capita in the riding during a provincial election.

Campaign spending limits for candidates and political parties have been in place at the federal level since 1974 and at the provincial level since 1995.

New Campaign Finance Rules For B.C. Local Elections Leave “Elephant In The Room”

Amid controversy about Enbridge’s spending in Kitimat before a plebiscite on its Northern Gateway oil proposal, the B.C. government introduced legislation on Wednesday that, if passed, will tighten rules for campaign financing and advertising in local government elections and referendums — but the changes come four years late and don't go far enough, says a campaign finance expert.

The new Local Elections Campaign Financing Act and Local Elections Statutes Amendment Act will require third-party advertisers to register with Elections BC, identify donors of $50 and more and report expenditures for the first time. It will also require all election advertising to clearly name a sponsor and will ensure all campaign donations and expenses are published on the Elections BC website. It will also extend the terms of office for local elected officials from three years to four.

This is the most significant update to B.C.’s local elections process in 20 years,” Coralee Oakes, the province’s community, sport and cultural development minister, said in a statement.

However, the legislation still won’t mandate spending limits for candidates and third parties — a recommendation made by a joint B.C.-Union of B.C. Municipalities local government elections task force in 2010. The government says expense limits will be broached in a second phase of legislation before the next local election in 2018.

Enbridge Employees Go Door-To-Door In Kitimat Before Vote On Northern Gateway

Duelling Enbridge billboards

Kitimat residents are fighting back as Enbridge scales up its campaign to sway the town’s plebiscite vote on the company’s Northern Gateway oil pipeline, which would see oil loaded onto 225 tankers a year at a proposed Kitimat terminal.

Having already launched an advertising blitz, Enbridge now has teams of paid canvassers knocking on doors throughout the community of 9,000 people. Door-knockers include Ray Doering, Enbridge’s manager of engineering from Calgary, Colin Kinsley, former mayor of Prince George and chair of the Enbridge-funded Northern Gateway Alliance, and other out-of-town Enbridge employees.

It’s the weirdest feeling having strangers in your town canvassing for this big company. It feels like it's none of their business,” says Patricia Lange, a volunteer with community group Douglas Channel Watch. “It feels very invasive.”

Enbridge Blitzes Northern B.C. With Ads Before Kitimat Plebiscite On Northern Gateway Oil Pipeline

Enbridge website

Enbridge Northern Gateway is covering northern B.C. with ads in the run up to the Kitimat plebiscite, urging citizens to vote in favour of the company’s proposal to ship oil across B.C. and on to Asia on oil tankers.  

During a provincial election or initiative vote, Elections BC restricts how much companies and other third-party advertisers can spend — but no such rules apply to the Kitimat plebiscite, being held on April 12.

Full-page colour ads have appeared in community newspapers in Kitimat, Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers, Burns Lake and Fort St. James — a town nearly 600 kilometres away from Kitimat. The estimated cost of those ads is about $8,250.

Enbridge has also launched a website, “Vote Yes for Kitimat,” urging citizens to vote in favour of their project. A conservative price tag on the website would be about $2,000, bringing Enbridge’s ad spend so far to more than $10,000 — with four weeks left until the vote.

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