Our City, Our Choices

In a Nutshell:

Fair Voting BC is asking Vancouver MLA candidates if they support Vancouver’s nearly decade-long, unanimous, multi-partisan request for increased control over local electoral processes.

Details of “Our City, Our Choices” Request:

Fair Voting BC is asking candidates whether they will, if elected, work to give Vancouver:

  • Autonomy to Choose our Voting System – the right to choose how we vote, as originally recommended by Justice Thomas Berger in 2004?
  • Power to Adopt Campaign Finance Reforms – the right to make locally appropriate campaign finance rules, as originally recommended by Justice Berger in 2004?
  • Power to Increase Ballot Transparency – the freedom to publish anonymized ballot data, as requested by Council in 2012?

All three of these requests have been made most recently by Vancouver City Council in spring 2012;  the first two have been requested multiple times.

Origins of Request:

In 2004, the Electoral Reform Commission chaired by Justice Thomas Berger made several key recommendations concerning voting reform and campaign finance reform.

  • Voting Reform:  “[voting processes] should be matters over which the City Council should now have a measure of control currently not permitted by the Charter.  If Council agrees, it should petition the provincial government to change the Charter in order to give the City greater flexibility in designing a system that best meets the needs and expectations of its citizens, as these change over time. This increasing empowerment of municipalities appears to be the emerging trend in other English- speaking common law jurisdictions.”  p 104.
  • Campaign Finance Reform:  Berger argued that both contribution and spending limits were desirable:  “It is better, in my view, to have a system that provides incentives for [contribution] money to be spent through the parties and candidates, subject to limits and disclosed fully to the public.”  p 120.  “it stands to reason that there should be limits both on spending by (or on behalf of) any individual candidate, and also overall limits on spending by political parties through the city generally.” p 121.

City Council’s Responses:

In 2005, City Council (under COPE Mayor Larry Campbell) acted on these recommendations and petitioned the province to change the City Charter, but no response was received.  In 2007, Council (under NPA Mayor Sam Sullivan) reissued the campaign finance reform request, but again received no response.  In 2010, Council (under Vision Mayor Gregor Robertson) petitioned the provincial Local Government Elections Task Force to address these issues, but the Task Force declined their request.

Most recently (January 2012), Council passed a motion entitled “Increasing Fairness and Citizen Involvement in Municipal Elections” which “reiterate[d] the request to have the ability under the Vancouver Charter for Council to make campaign finance rules and consider alternate voting systems, … and make a new request for the ability to release [anonymized] raw vote data.”  http://former.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20120131/documents/cfsc20120131min.pdf.

Again, no response was received.  In all these cases, Council acted unanimously, with councillors from the NPA, Vision, COPE and the Green Party all on record as supporting these requests.  This is therefore a non-partisan issue and ought to be easily and swiftly dealt with.

Supportive Quotations from Key Municipal Figures:

  • “The current rules are out of date with the types of elections being run in Vancouver. It’s time the Province took major steps to increase the fairness and transparency of local elections.” – Mayor Gregor Robertson (http://www.mayorofvancouver.ca/tag/electoral-reform; Jan 2012)
  • “The Provincial Government controls the municipal elections laws and have failed to make much-needed changes despite a decade of requests from Vancouver councillors.” Councillor Andrea Reimer (http://andreareimer.typepad.com/main/2012/01/motion-to-council-on-campaign-finance-other-reforms.html; Jan  2012)
  • “Canada’s cities face increasing challenges and need more freedom to shape their election practices to better engage citizens and inspire trust.  It’s well past time for Vancouver to be granted this power” – Senator and Former Mayor Larry Campbell, Apr 2013
  • “The City of Vancouver is in desperate need of electoral reform to counteract declining voter turnout and highly undemocratic election funding trends.” – Former Councilor Peter Ladner, May 2013

After nearly a decade of unanimity at the city level across all parties, Fair Voting BC believes it is well past time that the provincial government granted Vancouver’s repeated request.

We therefore ask the candidates:  Will you, if elected, support Vancouver’s petition to amend the city charter to grant it the power to improve its electoral processes?

Responses:

NDP:  The NDP said they will recognize local governments as an independent, responsible and accountable order of government, and empower them to enact municipal electoral finance reform.  They also promised to implement the Local Government Election Task Force Recommendations for the 2014 municipal elections (these are mainly related to campaign expenditure limits) and “will consider any request made by the City of Vancouver with regards to improving the electoral process.”

Liberals:  The Liberal Party promised to implement the majority of the recommendations from its 2010 Local Government Elections Task Force, and anticipate that the resulting Act will cover issues such as campaign contributions and expense limits.  They also commit themselves “to have this new Act in place prior to the 2014 local government elections” and will “continue to work with UBCM, Elections BC and other stakeholders to ensure that the changes are implemented.”

Greens:  The Green Party will fully support Vancouver’s petition and stated that “Voting rates are moving in the wrong direction and electoral financing for municipal elections currently has a bit of a wild west feel. Municipal electoral financing laws are too broad and invite voter skepticism when regional and even international groups or persons are donate to local candidates.”

Conservatives:  The Conservative Party submitted no response to our survey.

In summary, the NDP, Liberals and Greens all support some form of campaign finance reform (the Local Government Elections Task Force recommended expenditure limits, but not contribution limits).  The Greens fully support giving Vancouver power to choose a new electoral process, while the NDP “will consider any request”.

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