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Changes proposed to local election campaign financing

Proposed changes to municipal election campaign financing rules are getting a thumbs-up from the province’s Chief Electoral Officer.

However, Anton Boegman says more of his recommended changes should be implemented.

When passed, this legislation will strengthen local election campaign financing rules and will more closely align the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act rules with those established for provincial elections in the Election Act, while continuing to account for the unique nature of local elections. These changes include:

  • establishing a pre-campaign period that increases the length of time election advertising is regulated from 29 days to 89 days;
  • limiting sponsorship contributions to $1,200 to match the provincial campaign contribution limit set in 2017;
  • requiring elector organizations to register with Elections BC; and
  • providing Elections BC with new investigative tools to support investigations and additional penalties to fine people who do not comply with the new campaign financing rules.

Elector organizations, also known as civic or local political parties, will be required to register with Elections BC and complete annual financial reports just like provincial political parties. Elector organizations will be banned from accepting non-campaign contributions to pay for operational expenses, such as office supplies and staff salaries, in non-election years. This means they will have to fund all expenses through campaign contributions.

“In 2017, one of the government’s first initiatives was landmark legislation to put an end to big money in politics. We are continuing our work to make sure people are at the heart of decision-making,” said Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne. “The changes we are proposing reflect the feedback we heard coming out of the 2018 local government elections, and they will make elections at the local government level more transparent and equitable for everyone.”

Changes will apply to all local elections starting with the 2022 general local elections and any byelections that follow, including elections for councillors, mayors, electoral area directors and school trustees. Any byelections already underway or scheduled before 2022 are not affected.

“These changes strengthen the rules governing local government election finance by increasing transparency,” said Brian Frenkel, president, UBCM. “Local governments endorsed a call for these changes in 2020, and we appreciate the government’s response well in advance of the next local government general election.”

In 2018, Boegman’s office made several recommendations including requiring elector organizations to register with the Chief Electoral office and file annual financial reports, lengthening the pre-campaign period in which third party advertising is regulated, and providing the office with additional tools to ensure compliance with campaign financing rules, including administrative monetary penalties.

“In 2019 I recommended providing my office with general order making authority under the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act (LECFA),” Boegman said. “This authority would give my office greater ability to ensure administrative fairness, appropriate to achieve the purposes of the Act, when responding to exceptional circumstances that are not anticipated by LECFA. The Chief Electoral Officer has such authority for provincial elections under the Election Act.

“In 2020, I made a number of recommendations related to cyber threats to electoral integrity. These cyber threats include disinformation about the electoral process and anonymous online election advertising. While these threats have not been widely observed in provincial or local elections in B.C., the risks they pose to our electoral process are real. I encourage legislators to consider these recommendations in the context of local elections, to ensure that the legislation governing election advertising at the local level can effectively address these concerns.”

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