British Columbia

Municipal parties can use corporate, union donations for non-campaign purposes, Elections BC says

The minister for municipal affairs says she's "disappointed" a Vancouver political party is still planning on taking corporate and union donations should they come, but Elections BC says it's allowed under the new legislation.

The money can't be used in campaigns but can be used for general party operations

Campaign financing rules that went into effect on Oct. 31, 2017 placed a ban on corporate and union donations and limit individual donations to $1,200. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

The minister for municipal affairs says she's "disappointed" a Vancouver political party is still planning on taking corporate and union donations, but Elections BC says it's allowed under the new legislation. 

"There are no limits or source restrictions on money raised by electoral organizations for operational purposes," said Andrew Watson, communications director for Elections BC.

Under legislation passed by the government last year, there is a ban on corporate and union donations — and a $1,200 individual limit — for money spent during campaigns. 

But the legislation allows parties to take those donations if they go toward operational purposes outside of the election, something the Non Partisan Association says is necessary. 

"All parties need to exist outside an election period and campaign period, and I think the designers of the act realized that it would be completely unreasonable to completely tie us outside of the period," said NPA President Greg Baker. 

"Organizations need to keep the lights on, keep staff employed, keep computers running outside the campaign period ... so the act clearly understands that, and the rules are fair to everybody."

Vision calls for investigation 

Baker's disclosure sparked an outcry from the rival Vision Vancouver party, whose 10-year reign atop the city's political scene is in jeopardy in this October's municipal elections. 

"The NPA needs to come clean on how much corporate cash they have accepted," said Vision Vancouver co-chair Michael Haack in a statement calling for Elections BC to investigate the issue.

"Elections BC needs to put a stop to the NPA raising corporate donations through the backdoor. The spirit of the legislation is clear: there is no scenario where municipal parties can accept corporate donations."

Selina Robinson, B.C.'s minister of municipal affairs, said she directed staff "to take a look at make sure we have some clear understanding of what the legislation is intended to do."

"Our government took very bold measures back in the fall to take out big money. We didn't want it influencing our elections, and I'm a bit disappointed to hear there's an electoral organization that's looking for a way to skirt that legislation," she said. 

However, Elections BC said it hasn't received a complaint from Vision Vancouver, and Watson said the NPA was not, on the surface, doing anything untoward. 

"Anything used for campaigning can't be paid out of the operational account," he said. 

"If we saw activities that they normally wouldn't do as part of its day-to-day operations ramping up in advance of a election, it's certainly something we'd take note of and follow up on."

4 running for mayoral nomination

The NPA are also the furthest along of any of Vancouver's political parties in determining their candidate for mayor in the Oct. 20 election. 

Monday, entrepreneur Ken Sim became the fourth person to announce he would seek the party's nomination, joining councillor Hector Bremner, park board commission John Coupar and Glen Chernen.

"I grew up here and believe my four boys should have the opportunity to raise their families here also. I believe this generation and future generations should be able to afford to live in this city," said Sim, who co-founded Nurse Next Door, a franchise offering private home care to seniors and Rosemary Rocksalt, a bagel bakery.

The membership cut-off and deadline for running for the party is April 29, with the nomination vote taking place on May 29. It will be a one ballot election, with the candidate with the most votes immediately winning. 


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