Province plans municipal election reform

White paper coming; anonymous donations may be banned

Local politicians planning to run in next year's municipal elections will have to play by a new rulebook.

The province announced on Wednesday it is developing new laws around campaign finances that should be in place before the November 2014 elections.

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Details on the new rules are minimal, but the province is hinting it will ban anonymous campaign donations - which are currently allowed if the amount of money is small - demand disclosure and registration by third-party advertisers and require sponsorship information on all election advertising. Campaign finance disclosure documents will also have to be filed within 90 days of the election, as opposed to the current 120.

If followed through on, the legislation will also give Elections BC the teeth to enforce the law.

"We are committed to ensuring that election participants are fully aware of any changes well in advance of the Nov. 15, 2014, local elections. These changes are about enhancing transparency and accountability," said Coralee Oakes, minister of community, sport and cultural development.

The province is promising to issue a white paper that details the policy changes in early September and then accept public comment on the proposed changes until late October before introducing legislation next spring.

The legislation stops short of putting limits on how much a candidate can raise and spend in a campaign, though the province will consult with local governments in the meantime and consider that issue for the 2017 elections.

The announcement is being cautiously welcomed by members of North Van Urban Forum, a citizens' group that encourages participation in local government and lobbies for increased transparency and accountability.

Group member Amanda Nichol said the province's announcement needs a lot of clarification but it is a good start. "It's a move in the right direction, talking about it and bringing it up in any way, shape or form, I think is good," she said.

But more laws don't necessarily mean more accountability, Nichol cautioned. She would like to see the loopholes closed that allow big companies to funnel money to candidates through numbered holdings companies and subsidiaries.

"When you look at the campaign financials, because of the way that companies are registered, they sometimes have two or three different names they're registered under. Where the problem lies is having to do the research on who the campaign contributors are," she said. "It's great to have these rules but I'm reluctant to say we need new rules. People then perceive that it's more transparent than it really is."

Former premier Gordon Campbell created a local government elections task force in 2009 but its 31 recommendations were never legislated.

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