Efforts by Coun. Fred Haynes to change the financing of municipal election campaigns failed to get past his colleagues.
Saanich council voted 7-2 against a motion by Haynes, who had proposed personal tax credits for residents donating to municipal election campaigns.
“I do find it [the motion] to be self-serving,” said Mayor Richard Atwell, who fears that a system of personal tax credits for municipal campaigns would open municipal politics to the influence of wealthy individuals at the expense of less-wealthy individuals, who would be subsidizing such a system.
With these comments, Atwell echoed in part Coun. Dean Murdock, who questioned the fairness of the tax credit system that currently exists for provincial and federal parties. While Murdock praised the spirit behind Haynes’ motion, he said personal tax credits for political donations actually amount to subsidies.
Coun. Judy Brownoff also questioned the initiative, noting that similiar efforts had already failed in the past. Political tax credits exist to support political parties and the parliamentary system, she said. But municipal politics do not follow the parliamentary model, she said.
“We are not an order of government,” she said. “We are an order of the province.”
Coun. Fred Haynes said earlier that a system of tax credits would level the playing field, especially for candidates, who might not have name recognition.
Atwell, however, did not buy this argument. While he acknowledged the advantages of incumbency, the current system applies to all candidates equally. He also questioned the administrative feasibility of administering a tax credit system for thousands of candidates running in municipal elections.
If the system were to change, it would open up municipal politics to parties, he said. Municipal politics remains one of the last spheres without political parties and it should stay so, he said.
Atwell’s critique of Haynes’ proposal assumes added poignancy against the backdrop of Haynes’ decision to run against Atwell in this fall’s municipal election.
Council debated Haynes’ motion against the backdrop of larger changes in electoral finance laws.
The provincial government last fall banned political contributions from corporation, organization or union, or from individuals, who are not residents of B.C. and Canadian citizens or permanent residents.
The changes also cap individual donations to $1,200 – candidates themselves may donate $2,400 to their own campaigns – and impose now limits on loans, advertising and expenses.
The province also passed similar measures designed to limit the influence of money in provincial elections.
With a minimum donation of $1,150, the provincial government offers a maximum annual tax credit of $500.
The federal tax credit varies with the size of donation. Under current federal laws, citizens and permanent residents can donate a maximum of $1,500 per calendar year to political parties, electoral district associations, nomination contestants, and candidates of various kinds.
If Haynes’ motion had passed, it would have gone to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) annual general meeting and convention April 13-15 in Victoria.