Nova Scotia

Developer money debated before first Halifax council meeting

As Halifax's new councillors settle in, some are already thinking about reforming campaign finance rules.

'I've heard it talked about more than I have in any other election,' says Shawn Cleary

Halifax Regional Council will be debating how to reform campaign finance rules this year. (Jennifer Henderson/CBC)

As Halifax's new councillors settle in, some are already thinking about reforming campaign finance rules. 

Mayor-elect Mike Savage is urging calm around the contentious topic, while some new councillors are calling for a complete overhaul. 

"In my view, that's a torqued up issue," Savage told CBC News after polls closed, claiming about 70 per cent of the vote.

Mike Savage was re-elected mayor of Halifax with almost 70 per cent of the vote. (CBC)

Topic of debate this election

This election, at least 20 candidates publicly refused to take campaign donations from developers, including four who were elected. Others set self-imposed financing rules, such as capping the amount of each donation. 

"I've heard it talked about more than I have in any other election," councillor-elect Shawn Cleary said Sunday.

"We are decades behind other levels of government in dealing with this issue."

Cleary defeated Linda Mosher, who topped the list of councillors who took campaign donations from developers in 2012.

Halifax Councillor Shawn Cleary said he wants stricter campaign finance rules. (CBC)

'What matters is transparency'

Few rules govern campaign financing in Nova Scotia. Under the previous council led by Savage, Halifax asked permission from the province to revamp the guidelines.

Developers gave Mike Savage 30 per cent of his campaign funds last election, but he said "what matters is transparency. We have that now."

"People know who gave candidates money, and then they can look at how they can vote on issues and decide if they were influenced by that," Savage said.

Don't need 'actual corruption'

Candidates must submit their donations within 60 days of the election's end, according to the provincial elections act. The municipality will release those sometime after that, spokesman Brendan Elliott said.

Councillor-elect Sam Austin, like Cleary, wants to ban corporate and union donations outright.

"I don't even think you have to have actual corruption for it to be a problem," Austin said.

"The people who ... were asking because they perceive it as a problem ... If you don't have public confidence, it's hard for anyone to support the decisions made by council."

Sam Austin studied the impact of corporate and union donations on political engagement in municipalities. (CBC)

Money a 'stumbling block'

As an urban planning graduate student, Austin studied the impact of corporate and union donations on political engagement in municipalities. His study found banning such donations made races more fair — and more diverse — because some candidates wouldn't have unique "access to this big pot of cash."

"Having money isn't a guarantee of success, but not having money is almost a certain guarantee of failure," Austin said.

"Money is part of that problem because if you come from a group that's historically disadvantaged, one of the stumbling blocks to being able to mount a campaign is having that access to cash."

Halifax's first regional council meeting is scheduled for Nov. 1.

With files from CBC's Information Morning