The Province is reforming local election legislation which governs elections for municipal office (mayor and councillors), electoral area directors, some park boards, the Islands Trust, and Boards of Education. During a local election year over 1,660 elected positions are filled providing elected representations to over 250 government bodies around British Columbia.
The joint B.C. Government – Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) Local Government Elections Task Force (the Task Force) was formed in late 2009 for the purpose of making recommendations for changes to improve local elections. In May 2010, the Task Force provided 31 recommendations to ensure accountability, enhance transparency, strengthen compliance and enforcement, increase accessibility, and expand education and advice, with the main area identified for improvement as campaign financing.
The Province made the decision to undertake local government elections reform in two phases; the first phase of implementation was completed in Spring 2014 through the passing of the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act (LECFA) and applied to local elections on November 15, 2014. The LECFA implemented recommendations related to transparency, accountability, compliance and enforcement, as well as education and advice with respect to campaign financing.
Phase two focused on the Task Force’s recommendation of accessibility, specifically regarding expense limits. The Task Force felt that expense limits could increase accessibility and fairness by leveling the playing field among candidates, encouraging candidate participation, and reducing the need for large contributions to fund expensive campaigns. In October 2014, the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia appointed an all-party Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits (the Special Committee) that was tasked with providing recommendations to support the development of legislation necessary to implement expense limits. The goal was to have this legislation in place for the upcoming local elections in 2018.
Phase I – Campaign Finance Rules:
In 2013, the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development (the Ministry) published a White Paper on Local Government Elections Reform and invited comments from citizens and stakeholders on the proposed modernization of the legislation. The purpose of the consultation was to garner feedback on whether the proposed rules were clear and would work “on the ground” for election participants (i.e., candidates, elector organizations, and third party advertisers).
September 9 to October 23, 2013
Citizens were invited to review the White Paper and submit written comments by email or mail. Forty-nine feedback responses were submitted through a mix of public and targeted consultation, with the majority of respondents expressing support for the proposed changes.
Input leads to action:
Based on the comments received on the White Paper, the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act was revised to address clarity, workability and repetition. In addition, the proposed ban on anonymous contributions was removed as election participants and stakeholders had expressed concern over a complete ban. Collecting modest, anonymous campaign contributions during local elections was identified and accepted as a well-established practice in B.C.’s local elections. Input received also highlighted the need for greater education and advice on the new campaign finance rules. In response to this feedback, Elections BC and the Ministry created extensive educational materials which were made available to all election participants prior to the 2014 general local election.
Phase II – Expense Limits:
In 2013, the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development released a Discussion Paper, which outlined the policy building blocks for expense limits and some of the complex issues involved in the legislative framework. The Discussion Paper provided questions for general feedback, with the intention of exploring how to best set expense limits that could work for all communities around the province.
November 15, 2013 to January 31, 2014
174 written responses were received through online and hardcopy submissions. In addition to accepting written submissions, the Minister of MCSCD met with stakeholders including UBCM executive, UBCM’s area association boards, and elector organizations, approximately 70 people and 14 different organizations were represented in these stakeholder meetings. In general, responses showed very strong support for the introduction of expense limits.
Input leads to action:
In response to the recommendations of the Task Force and the input received by the Discussion Paper consultations, a formula approach to expense limits for candidates was approved by the Province and will be in place for the next local elections in the 2018. Input received also highlighted that third party advertising can impact elections in communities of any size and therefore needs expense limits as well.
Third-Party Advertisers Consultation:
In 2015, the Ministry conducted a province-wide survey of third-party advertisers in jurisdictions with populations under 15,000. The targeted consultations were designed to garner feedback from third party advertisers on whether the Special Committee’s recommended expense limit would allow for reasonable third party advertising activities. Comments on other recommendations of the Special Committee were also welcome.
July 31 to August 17, 2015
Fifty-nine email responses were received from third party advertisers. A significant portion of those who participated indicated that the recommended expense limit was too low for small communities to conduct meaningful advertising.
Input leads to action:
As a result of the input received, a higher flat-rate expense limit was set for third-party advertisers in communities with a population of less than 15,000.
Bill 43 consultations:
On October 22, 2015 the Province introduced Bill 43, the Local Elections Campaign Financing (Expense Limits) Amendment Act for public consultation. Reflecting the recommendations of the Special Committee, the bill provided a final opportunity for feedback from local election participants, key stakeholders, and the public on the proposed approach to expense limits.
October 22 to November 27, 2015
Twenty-nine responses were received by email and letter submissions. Third-party advertisers and elector organizations were also encouraged to attend in-person meetings to provide additional feedback.
Input leads to action:
Stemming from the consultations on Bill 43, key changes were proposed to strengthen the final expense limits framework, including a proposed change to the expense limit period for candidates to reflect significant concerns raised during the consultation.
Multiple responses also highlighted concerns regarding the complexity of the framework and the need for education materials. In response to this, Elections BC and the Ministry will be updating the education materials for all election participants to include the new rules and guidelines, prior to the 2018 local elections.
Respondents also expressed support for limits or bans on certain types of campaign contributions (e.g., corporate and union, contributions from outside of Canada), often associated with conflict of interest concerns. The Task Force felt that expense limits would be more effective than contribution limits in promoting accessibility by reducing the need for large contributions and still allowing people to support specific candidates. The Province is supporting the Task Force’s recommendation and will not be implementing contribution limits.
On May 19, 2016 the expense limits framework was implemented through the passing of Bill 17, the Local Elections Campaign Financing (Election Expenses) Amendment Act. Implementation of regulation in Fall 2016 will complete the Province’s commitment to local government elections reform in British Columbia.