British Columbia

Union staff canvassing for Vancouver mayoral candidate aren't breaking any rules

Elections BC says it is legal for union staff to knock on doors and suggest who people vote for, as long as they are not doing it in cooperation, or on behalf of, a candidate.

Elections BC says campaigning by 3rd parties is legal as long as they do so independently

Third parties are permitted to canvass and knock on doors during municipal election campaigns as long as they are not doing it in cooperation with, or on behalf of, a candidate. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Union staffers who have been canvassing in Vancouver to get their preferred candidates elected are not breaking any third-party advertising rules, according to Elections BC.

Complaints were made to Elections BC after it was discovered that four members of affiliate unions of the Vancouver and District Labour Council were being paid by their unions to canvass.

Municipal elections are governed by the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act, which caps third-party donations at $1,200. 

Nola Western, deputy chief electoral officer with Elections BC, said the office received specific complaints, but according to election regulations, the canvassers are operating above board.

"Third parties are permitted to canvass and knock on doors. They are permitted to pay people to do that. What they can not do is conduct those activities on behalf of a candidate or an elector organization," said Western.

Using a fictional candidate to explain, Western said as long as people campaign independently and have not spoken with the candidate, they are free to do what these union staffers are doing. 

"They happen to like Joe, so they have people knocking on doors saying we think you should vote for Joe, but they are not doing it with Joe," she said.

'We're certainly watching'

The canvassers in question were knocking on doors in support of candidates endorsed by the Vancouver District Labour Council, including mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart.

Stewart said in a statement he is still the only mayoral candidate who has disclosed his donors and he fully supports a review of campaign rules after this election.

"I think that the municipal rules for election spending should mirror the new provincial rules," said Stewart.

In September 2017, the B.C. NDP banned union donations to provincial election campaigns.

Premier John Horgan said he will not interfere in the middle of a municipal election. He said his government will look at any gaps that may have been exploited and make adjustments to the legislation if it is considered appropriate.

"We're certainly watching the municipal elections campaigns ... let's see how it unfolds and what steps we can or should take once it's concluded," said Horgan.

With files from Justin McElroy

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