Comment: Vancouver's campaign spending contagion spreading fast
The returns are in and some of the 2014 local election campaign spending isn’t pretty.
But first a quick peek at some of the spending by the ‘distant cousins’ that seems to have been lost in the feeding frenzy over those candidate returns.
More than 100 organizations registered with Elections B.C. as third-party sponsors. There were the customary civic-minded groups and others with a bit of self-interest at stake. A few dropped some serious coin.
The Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association spent $67,234, not including its $44,500 in donations of which $17,500 went to Vision Vancouver.
The Bowen Island Improvement Association spent $2,853, West Vancouver Citizens for Good Government spent $8,402 and a Better City Vancouver Association spent $9,424.
Woodfibre LNG spent $18,248 in Squamish or the equivalent of $1.43 for every eligible voter. The limit in the provincial riding that includes Squamish – West Vancouver-Sea to Sky – is $3,200 or 8.4 cents per voter.
Didn’t work out so well for Woodfibre though. Patricia Heintzman spent all of $11,842 to win the mayor’s chair, defeating the more LNG-friendly incumbent Rob Kirkham.
Based on its attempt to minimize the scope of its missive after the fact, Kamloops-based Ajax Mining must have ruffled a few feathers with a letter it sent out during the campaign. In a blog post, the company claimed that it had been sent to “a group of Ajax supporters.”
At a cost of $8,605 that was either one very large group or one very long letter. Didn’t work out so well for the mine either when the results came in.
The Silverado Group of Companies wasn’t exactly ‘hi ho silver’ on the city administration in Courtenay. The company spent $7,810 on ads and it wasn’t on what could be described as a ‘feel good’ message.
And then, of course, there was the spending by the municipal parties and candidates themselves.
Vancouver can always be counted on for the shock numbers and it didn’t disappoint. Vision Vancouver spent a record $3.4 million and the NPA $2.1 million.
Looked at from another perspective: Vision Vancouver spent more than twice the legal limit for a municipal party running a full-slate of candidates in Montreal; a city with more than twice the number of voters than Vancouver and more than three times the number of positions up for grabs.
It’s why the B.C. government likes to say this is all a Vancouver problem. But it’s not.
Across the Patullo Bridge, Surrey First dropped $1.178 million on its campaign. Had Montreal’s limit of $1.50 per voter applied, the cap would have been set at $480,120 and that’s before taking into account the difference in the number of elected positions between the two cities.
With a bit of help from his friends, including the B.C. Liberal party (Richmond East) that donated $375 and the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation that rolled the dice for $6,025, Malcolm Brodie spent $140,990 on his re-election bid in Richmond.
Brodie’s spending works out to about $1.14 per voter. In Manitoba, his cap would have been set at $53,395 or roughly 43 cents a voter.
Or consider the big spenders vying for the top job in Abbotsford, Kelowna, Nanaimo, Prince George, Saanich, Vernon and Victoria.
All but one of the 15 candidates – Vernon’s new mayor Akbal Mund – exceeded the spending limits in place in Quebec and all but two exceeded the limits in Manitoba.
So much for it being a Vancouver problem.
How the parties spent their moolah also says something about their campaign approach.
Vision Vancouver spent $784,000 on salaries and $173,000 on rent, while the NPA spent $100,000 on salaries and $19,000 on rent. Vision was the big advertiser of the campaign spending $1.2 million, including $518,555 on radio and TV ads. The NPA spent $786,000 on advertising.
Ironically, for a party obsessed with message control, Vision spent $114,500 on research and polling, compared to the $640,730 spent by the NPA.
Something that jumps out when looking at cities that have spending limits in place: voter turnout. In Richmond it was 32.4 per cent last November, in Winnipeg it was 50.2 per cent.
And in Toronto – at more than 60 per cent – voter turnout in last October’s civic election was higher than the turnout in B.C.’s 2013 general election.
Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC. www.integritybc.ca