City scraps election finance bylaw

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New provincial rules void city's former bylaw

Candidates in this fall’s civic election will have to follow a new set of campaign financing rules.

Due the passage of two provincial laws earlier this year, rules have changed for local campaign financing and reporting. The legislation prompted city council to repeal its election contribution and expense disclosure bylaw last week.

“I encourage candidates to familiarize themselves with the changes,” chief legislative officer Chris Belke told council Tuesday, adding the rules would be added to a handbook that’s provided to prospective candidates.

Belke said the new rules require councillor and mayoral candidates to donate a maximum of $10,000 cumulatively to their own campaigns and accept a maximum of $5,000 from any individual or business donor. Candidates would also have to report their expenses by March 1 of the year following the election.

Candidates who don’t file their expenses by March 1 will face a $500 fine. Those who don’t pay the fine and fail to file their expenses are subject to a $2,500 fine and a potential ejection from council.

Belke said that, as a result of the new legistlation, the city needed to repeal its own election disclosure bylaw, which was brought to the city in 2001. In the bylaw, candidates were required to submit their election expenses and contributions by mid-January following the election, and an expenses audit was conducted on any expenses totalling over $2,500.

“Under the provincial rules, everything is recorded,” Belke later said. “The intent is similar to what we had before.”

Coun. James Burrows said he wasn’t happy to see the province creating laws that dictated how civic elections are run. The changes make city politicians look worse than they really are, he added.

“Some of these changes make the accusations that we’re not honest people,” said Burrows, the lone councillor to oppose repealing the city bylaw. “This is the provincial government getting into our jurisdiction when they should just stay out of it.”

Mayor Nolan Crouse questioned the logic behind the finance limits, saying that a candidate that chooses to fully self-fund their campaign and goes over the $10,000 limit would be subject to a penalty when the amount they are over may not be by much.

As well, Crouse asked administration if it was possible for a candidate to get around the self-funding rules by having family members donate money to their campaign, such as allowing a spouse to donate $5,000 to their significant other’s campaign.

During the 2007 election, Crouse spent $45,857 on his campaign and received donations from his wife Gwen ($7,000), while Crouse Developments and Castle Concepts Inc. (Gwen Crouse) each gave $2,000.

“That’s one way to interpret it,” responded Belke, adding that he and his department were still trying to get an understanding of the new rules.

Coun. Roger Lemieux later said that while he didn’t like the idea of the province dictating the terms of elections, it was too late to debate it and time to start understanding the new legislation. However, he admitted the new financial limits could allow candidates without as much money to run as well.

“That horse is out of the barn now,” he said. “We’re supposed to be a free democratic society and this may help with that.”

New rules

o Candidates can spend a maximum of $10,000 funding their own campaign
o Any one donor, either an individual or company, can donate a maximum of $5,000
o No anonymous donations
o Any excess funds over $500 must be given to the city to hold in trust until the next election
o All reports must be filed with the city by March 1 of the year following the election
o Failing to report by March 1 will cost the candidate $500, with penalties going up from there

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