Local governments can help curb election expense says Duncan mayor

Setting limits on candidate spending in municipal elections is a good idea but it needs to be carefully thought out to work evenly across the province, Duncan Mayor Phil Kent said.

Kent was one of the low spending heroes in the last municipal election, achieving his re-election while spending only $995.

With the province looking at the idea of limiting candidate expenditures, though, he said, there are challenges.

"Municipalities are different right across the province; it’s challenging to understand just what those [spending] limits would be. Obviously my spending reflected the community we’re in and my length of time in office.

"I understand in the metropolitan areas it’s a challenge; there are third parties [advertising] and things like that. I think it’s something that should be reviewed."

Even as they wait for the province to act, local governments can also take steps to provide an opportunity for someone of any means to be able to run for office, Kent said.

"Some of it can be things municipalities can do with respect to their bylaws: signage and things like that. I know we did look at it at council; we limited [signage placement] to certain corridors and areas. Those are things municipalities can decide and do well ahead of elections so the ground rules for people are clear."

Making the playing field level is the name of the game.

"Council can place limits on the places that signage is allowed so that somebody with a whole bunch of money can put up a whole bunch of signage anywhere and somebody with limited means can’t compete with that."

However, preparing one set of guidelines for use across B.C. means looking carefully at the diverse types of communities involved, Kent said.

"That’s the challenge; there are different circumstances. Most of B.C. is made up of small communities and having the limit set provincially for the larger metropolitan areas really essentially doesn’t set a limit much for smaller communities. It’ll be a challenge to set up a universal set of guidelines that apply fairly across the province." Even before the last election, some of the ground rules had changed, he said.

"The financing rules were changed before the last election, which had an impact on third-party advertisers. These could be either organizations or complete third parties who had ideas that they wanted to use to promote or not promote certain candidates. They had to report that and register as third party advertisers. That was already set up for this last election. I think that was a transparent thing to do and I think it went over very well. Obviously this was a learning election for Elections BC and they will probably make some adjustments to some of that," Kent said.