Municipal election reform promised

The provincial government is promising changes to municipal elections, including a ban on anonymous contributions.

The provincial government is promising changes to municipal elections, including a ban on anonymous contributions, for the next time voters go to the polls to elect councils.

The changes, which will be detailed in a white paper next month, also require disclosure and registration of third-party advertisers in local government elections.

Sponsorship information will be required on all election advertising and campaign finance disclosure statements must be filed within 90 days instead of 120 days.

“We are committed to ensuring that election participants are fully aware of any changes well in advance of the Nov. 15, 2014, local elections,” said Coralee Oakes, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.

“These changes are about enhancing transparency and accountability.”

Officials with the Union of B.C. Municipalities are pleased to see the changes coming.

“UBCM is pleased to see that the province is moving forward on elections legislation,” said Mary Sjostrom, president, Union of BC Municipalities. “The phased approach they are adopting will help ensure the changes will work for the full range of communities in B.C. All candidates will look forward to learning what the rules will be for the 2014 campaign.”

Mayor Janice Perrino, who was invited to the task force after the 2008 municipal election, said the changes are a good start in election reform.

She said communities across the province have struggled with electoral issues, especially in the 2008 election.

The changes governing anonymous advertisements were needed, she said.

“It’s becoming a huge issue right across the province,” Perrino said. “When people make public comments, they need to sign their names.”

In the 2008 election, a series of advertisements endorsed one of the two mayoral candidates and six of the 13 councillor candidates. All who were endorsed in the advertisements were elected.

The following year, when criticisms arose, those named in the ads said they did not approve them.

In December, 2009, Mark Ziebarth came forward and took responsibility for the endorsement ads which bore the name Citizens for Smart Governance.

At the time, Ziebarth said he did not register and report the financial details of the advertising campaign, nor was he required to do so.

“Nowhere in the Local Government Act does it say an individual has to report advertisements in the newspaper,” he said.

Perrion said t changes to the advertising regulations and the other changes will help to provide more transparency.

She added that other election changes are still needed.

The task force asked that municipal elections be held one month earlier, in October rather than November. “It’s very hard to campaign in cold weather,” Perrino said.

The change will take effect in the 2017 municipal election, but Perrino wonders why it was not implemented for the 2014 election.

A recommendation for four-year election terms was not included in the changes.

Perrino said the longer terms would benefit communities since council members would have more time to become familiar with the issues they are facing.

Changes affecting campaign spending will be useful, although Perrino said overspending has not affected Summerland elections.

Maureen Fugeta, Summerland’s corporate officer, said she is looking forward to the changes.

“I’m hoping that with some of the changes, it will be clearer for us,” she said.

The changes will address issues which have arisen in Summerland’s municipal elections in the past.

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