September 7, 2018 1:38 am

New B.C. municipal election finance rules haven’t stopped big ad spending

Critics say people have found a way to get around stricter new laws on election campaign financing passed last year for B.C. As Jill Bennett reports, concerns are growing about how the loophole could affect the upcoming municipal elections.


Is big money really out of B.C. politics? Some critics aren’t so sure.

There have been big changes to municipal campaign finance rules in B.C. since the last civic election, aimed at ending the big money free-for-all that some of the more high profile races had become in recent years.

The new NDP government has banned corporate and union donations to civic parties, while the BC Liberals capped civic expenditures while still in power.

READ MORE: Concerns raised over new shorter campaign periods in B.C. municipal elections

However, those spending limits — on both candidates and third-party groups — aren’t in place yet, and don’t kick in until Sept. 22.

That’s a fact some groups are already taking advantage of, including whoever is behind a series of billboards that have popped up to support Yes Vancouver mayoral candidate Hector Bremner.

WATCH: NDP government banning big money from municipal politics

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Some of the ads say they were paid for by the Fix Housing Campaign, while others say they were posted by Vancouverites for Affordable Housing.

Global News’ calls to the number featured on both versions went unreturned on Thursday, as did emails.

READ MORE: B.C. NDP moves to ban ‘big money’ in municipal elections

Vancouver Courier civic affairs columnist Mike Klassen said it’s a sign there’s problems with the campaign finance rules.

“There were enough loopholes in the legislation that allowed groups that we have no idea who’s behind them, we have no idea who is writing the cheques, right up until later this month when there’s a deadline,” he said.

The provincial government, for its part, is adamant that it’s taking the issue seriously.

READ MORE: Pressure builds for ‘big money’ ban in B.C. civic elections

“We looked at big money in politics, one of the first things we did upon being sworn in was go into the legislature and take big money out of politics,” said Premier John Horgan.

“If there are loopholes that allow money to buy influence, we’re going to try and shut that down.”

However any shut down won’t come until the next election. B.C.’s ministry of municipal affairs issued a statement saying it would monitor the 2018 elections, and make any necessary changes to the laws afterward.

WATCH: BC NDP and Greens defend taxpayer ‘allowance’ to ban big money

Another area that will be outside of spending limits once the campaign period kicks off is ads on social media.

Attack ads have already begun to proliferate on various platforms.

“What we’re seeing here is sort of an ethical disconnect. It may be legally permissible to spend as much money as you want on a third party advertiser for your candidate of choice, but for us its not an ethical thing,” said Vancouver Green council candidate Pete Fry.

READ MORE: B.C. NDP introduce legislation to ban big money in politics, includes corporate and union donation ban

“Really I think the whole sort of spirit of getting big money out of politics isn’t being met here.”

The new rules come on the heels of the most free spending civic election in B.C.’s history.

In that vote, Vision Vancouver raked in and spent $3.4 million in donations, $2.2 million of it from corporations and $385,000 from unions, while the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) brought in $2.4 million, $1.7 million of it from corporations.

Under new expense limits, which kick in on Sept. 22, expenditures for mayoral candidates are capped at $10,000 and council candidates at $5,000 in cities with populations under 10,000.

There’s a per capita formula in cities with more than 10,000 residents; for Vancouver, that formula would limit mayoral candidates to about $209,000 and candidates for council to about $107,000. A party running a full slate including mayor would hit a cap of about $1.17 million.

Third-party groups are limited to a hard cap of $150,000.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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