New Brunswick

Secrecy may remain for 2020 municipal election spending, despite promised reform

Secrecy may again surround municipal election campaign contributions, despite a provincial pledge to introduce new rules forcing transparency for the May 2020 vote. The province remains one of the few jurisdictions that don't require candidates to say who gave them money.

Elections New Brunswick says it would be 'extremely challenging' to implement new rules in time

New regulations were expected to be in place last year to give Elections NB time to prepare and inform potential candidates about the rules. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Secrecy may again surround municipal election campaign contributions, despite a provincial pledge to introduce new rules forcing transparency for the May 2020 vote.

"From the perspective of Elections New Brunswick, the rules that were in place for candidates in 2016 are the same as they will be for May of 2020," Paul Harpelle, a spokesperson for Elections New Brunswick, said Tuesday.

There are no limits on how much municipal election candidates can spend on their campaigns or any requirement they disclose who donated funds.

The former Liberal government introduced and passed legislation to limit spending and require disclosure of contributors. A January 2018 news release said the rules would be in place for May 2020. 

"We had committed to exploring appropriate limits and public disclosure of spending and donations for municipal elections, and we got it done," Serge Rousselle, then-minister of environment and local government, said in the release.

Serge Rousselle, the province's former minister of environment and local government, said in 2018 that the rules would be in place for the May 2020 municipal election. (CBC)

Rousselle told a legislature committee in January 2018 the goal was to finish regulations setting out the new rules as early as possible to give Elections New Brunswick time to prepare to implement them. 

Harpelle said it would be "extremely challenging" for the agency that administers municipal elections around the province to properly prepare materials and training for candidates on the new rules in time for the vote at this point.

CBC News requested an interview last week with Jeff Carr, the minister of environment and local government. An interview was not provided. 

Jeff Carr, who succeeded Rousselle as minister of local government, would not be interviewed. A statement from the PC government didn't say if it intends to implement the rules for the May 2020 municipal election. (CBC)

In a statement Tuesday, Tyler Campbell, an executive council spokesperson, blamed the former Liberal government for not implementing regulations before the September 2018 provincial election. 

With the municipal election less than a year away, Campbell said there are "considerable time constraints" to bring the rules forward in time. The statement did not say whether the government intends to do so.

Liberal MLA Keith Chiasson, who served as Rousselle's executive assistant for four years, said his understanding was that the department was close to finishing regulations in August before the provincial election. 

"Why they are hesitating I have no idea," Chiasson said of the Progressive Conservative government of Blaine Higgs. "I think it's something that's very important and time, I think, is of the essence because elections are coming up very shortly."

Long-sought rules

The long-sought rules would bring the province in line with other provinces that mandate financial disclosure. Candidates in provincial and federal elections are also subject to campaign finance limits and disclosure. 

New Brunswick is one of four jurisdictions without municipal financial reporting requirements. The others are Prince Edward Island, Yukon and Nunavut.

There have been long-standing calls for transparency, including ahead of municipal elections in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Brian Hicks, a longtime Moncton city councillor, has called for greater campaign transparency. (Submitted)

Brian Hicks, a longtime city councillor in Moncton, said councils regularly vote to award contracts worth millions of dollars and make decisions that affect businesses in the community. 

"It's still important for taxpayers to know if anyone contributed to their campaign, and if so, how much," Hicks said.

Hicks said he spent about $5,000 of his own money in a 2018 byelection, and he didn't take contributions. 

The rules were being developed in consultation with municipal government associations. 

Margot Cragg, executive director of the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick, said the group told the province the rules should account for varying community sizes and avoid creating undue barriers for candidates running for office. 

"Campaign finance rules can provide greater transparency and accountability and create a level playing for candidates, and that's a really good thing," Cragg said.

"But you can't just copy and paste the rules for the federal and provincial elections to the municipal level. So if the province is taking the time to get it right, that's a good thing."

About the Author

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

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