Province will amend Halifax’s charter to allow for election finance rules

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WATCH ABOVE: The province of Nova Scotia says it will introduce changes to the Halifax charter this spring. Global’s Legislative Reporter Marieke Walsh reports – Mar 10, 2016

Campaign finance and spending rules for municipal elections in Halifax could change following the spring sitting of the Nova Scotia legislature.

Municipal Affairs Minister Zach Churchill told reporters legislation will be introduced to change the province’s charter that sets out the rules for what Halifax Regional Council can and can’t do.

“The plan is to bring some amendments to act related to HRM elections this spring,” Churchill said, although he declined to specify exactly what those changes will mean for the city.

READ MORE: Halifax regional councillors vote against salary freeze

The news comes following a request from Mayor Mike Savage to give council the power to enact a bylaw that would establish campaign disclosure requirements, set campaign spending and donation limits, and determine who is eligible to contribute to a campaign.

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A government spokesperson wouldn’t comment on whether the new legislation will meet all of those demands.

Churchill said the legislation will be proclaimed by the fall municipal election, but it’s not clear if the new rules would apply to the upcoming municipal election campaign.

“We have to see the legislation,” Savage said Thursday. “If it’s enabling, which allows us to do our own rules, then we’ll have to, as a council, move to set up a process by which we determine what those rules should be.

“I think we all have different ideas as to what limits should be and who should be allowed to give or who shouldn’t, so there’s a lot of work to be done on it.”

Nova Scotia’s municipal election rules set few limits for campaign finance. During the 2012 election, some candidates imposed rules on themselves. Coun. Jennifer Watts limited contributions to $500 per person and says she didn’t accept donations from organizations such as unions or corporations to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. Coun. Steve Craig imposed a $1,000 limit but didn’t limit who could donate. Savage had a $5,000 donation limit, and raised more than $342,000, including in-kind donations.

Establishing ground rules for spending and donations will bring the municipality in line with other provinces and other orders of government, Savage said.

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“It makes sure that there’s an integrity in the system and people don’t have to question it.”

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