Tighter civic election rules could kick in by November, but a Pitt Meadows councillor doesn’t think they are strict enough.
Coun. Janis Elkerton said municipal politicians should not be allowed to vote on issues connected to their campaign donors.
“I think they could have gone further,” she said. “I think it’s important for people to understand who’s financing these municipal politicians. What happens is, people, even if they get donations from a developer, they sit in on decisions on that [developer], at the present time.”
The province’s local government elections task force proposes banning anonymous donations to campaigns (currently nameless donations of up to $100 are allowed), that sponsors be identified for all election advertising, and that campaign finance statements be filed within three months, instead of four.
“I think if you’re getting significant contributions from one developer, and you sit in on decisions, I feel that’s a conflict of interest.”
Councillors who received contributions from developers should abstain from voting on issues involving that developer, she said.
Elkerton, a five-term councillor, doesn’t accept campaign contributions. She’s been sent cheques and refused to cash them.
“I’ve always paid for the whole election, since I ran in 1993.”
In the November 2011 election, she spent about $4,500.
“It’s just easier to run it myself. My conscience is clear at the end of the day and I know I’m going along with what’s best for the community.”
Other councillors maintain they’re not influenced by campaign contributions.
But Elkerton says they are, even subconsciously, especially with larger donations.
She’s not saying there should be no donations, because other candidates may need the help to run a campaign.
So she proposes that councillors excuse themselves from voting if they received $2,000 or more from a contributor.
Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin was frustrated with the limited scope of the recommendations of the elections task force. He’d support some kind of limit on election spending, and suggested it be tied to the size of the municipality.
For the 2011 election campaign, he spent $11,219. In the 2008, he spent about $30,000.
Daykin also favours four-year, rather than three-year terms for district councillors.
Council newcomers take about six to eight months to learn their jobs, he added. Longer terms could also dissuade candidates from first getting elected to municipal council, then running in provincial politics, requiring by-elections.
However, Daykin doesn’t favour expanding Maple Ridge council from seven to nine members. The district has the option of doing that, but decided years ago to maintain seven seats.
“I don’t think the workload is so onerous that [it’s] not getting taken care of.”
Maple Ridge Coun. Cheryl Ashlie is OK with no limits on city election spending now, but said limits could be necessary if slates start to take over.
“That needs to be explored further. That’s a conversation worth having.”
She likes the new rules, though, saying they increase transparency and that all campaign expense records, such as invoices and receipts, should be disclosed.
Ashlie, a two-term councillor and former school board chair, largely financed her last 2011 campaign herself, spending $5,179, with only $200 coming from a friend. In her first election, she got small donations from two realtors, but said that didn’t sit well with her.
While she says other councillors are not influenced by those who contribute to their campaigns, she rather refuse the help.
“If you can’t do something on your own two feet, don’t do it. It’s how I was raised,” Ashlie said.
“You just don’t take money from people.”