Last weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver City Hall: Take big money out of civic campaigns
Forgive me for the lack of recent posts other than my columns; summer is here and there are many other things to do in the warm summer evening than sit and blog on a hot sweaty desk chair….I’ll post soon and there are several things I want to write about.
For now, this was Thursday’s column in 24Hrs Vancouver, which you may find relevant even in your hometown.
Since taking on the City Hall column and paying greater attention to municipal affairs across the region, there is one concern readers have shared with me that is common to every city in Metro Vancouver.
From Vancouver and Surrey to North Vancouver and White Rock, there is a growing concern that developers are wielding too much influence in city halls.
In Vancouver, real estate developers and marketers have been under scrutiny for their role and contribution to the city’s affordable housing issue.
In Surrey, both developers and the city have frequently been under fire for not only the city’s illegal suite problem, but for rapidly building high-density housing without thought to the impact on local infrastructure like schools, health care and parking.
Even the tiny city of White Rock isn’t exempt — a contentious proposal currently in the works to build two highrises requires an amendment to the Official Community Plan in order to build it. Now under scrutiny by the locals are the past campaign contributions the development group has made to the mayor and several councillors.
But if you were to ask your local city council if campaign contributions have any influence on proposals before council, I guarantee you will get a resounding — and likely offended — “No!” as an answer.
To voters, it’s a perception of conflict of interest and it’s easy to see why it’s an ongoing concern for residents.
Developers who’ve given hefty donations to municipal campaigns and then bring matters before council for approval raise serious questions to the validity of the entire process. That’s why so many advocates in favour of electoral reform were disappointed to see the final committee report on Local Elections Expense Limits recently presented to provincial MLAs in the legislature.
While the report makes recommendations limiting the amount candidates and slates can spend in local elections, it does nothing to address the bigger issue of limiting the dollar amount of contributions in the first place, or banning corporate and union donations.
With civic election turnouts appallingly low and cynicism towards both politicians and political process at an all-time high, these changes are critical.
The integrity of both civic elections, and city hall process and planning, must be protected to restore faith with voters. And the best way to do that is to take big corporations, big unions and their big money out of it.