Car dealerships, real estate developers among top donors for Regina mayoral candidates

Democracy Watch says campaign contributions should have been released weekly leading up to the election.

Democracy Watch says campaign contributions should have been released months sooner

Duff Conacher says campaign finances should be released during the run up to the election. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Donation totals to Sandra Masters and Michael Fougere's campaigns were close for Regina's 2020 election, even if the final vote tally was not. 

Masters won the Nov. 9 election by about 5,000 votes, a large number considering only 41,029 Regina residents — about 21 per cent of eligible voters — took part. Masters captured 46.36 per cent of the vote, compared to incumbent Fougere's 35.74 per cent.

Masters raised $67,891 in donations, while Fougere was close behind with $63,573, although about $6,000 of Fougere's was rolled over from the 2016 election.

In 2016, when Fougere won in a landslide victory, he only raised $46,405. Mayoral candidates are only allowed to accept a maximum of $68,776 in contributions. 

In a city report released Feb. 22, Masters listed her main donations as coming from Kevin Knight Management Ltd. — which owns car dealerships in the city — and Bruce Axelson, president and CEO of Capital Automotive Group. They donated $10,000 and $8,000 respectively.

Haztech Energy Corp donated $2,000, Jennifer Denouden — founder of Avana Real Estate — donated $1,140.39, Magnorum Group — a consortium of construction and related companies — donated $998 and Walker Projects donated $750.

Other donations of $500 to Masters' campaign were from Taylor Lexus Toyota, Westridge Construction Ltd., Buckingham Security Services, Makris Brothers Enterprises Ltd. and Bravo Tango. Masters did not have a surplus as she listed campaign expenses at $68,289.56.

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Democracy Watch calls for campaign finances disclosure ahead of elections

Duff Conacher, founder of advocacy group Democracy Watch, said that while it's great that candidates are disclosing their fundraising amounts, it should have been done much sooner. 

"Voters have a right to know before they vote who has funded each candidate," Conacher said. "If you ask most people, they would say 'Oh, yeah, I would like to know who is bankrolling various candidates before I vote,' because any candidate will owe those people and that will affect the decisions that they'll make."

During the campaign, Fougere said such contributions do not affect what happens in the future. 

"This is democracy. You're allowed to raise money and therefore it should be fine. But if the insinuation is somehow that if you raise money in a certain category, [that] people, developers may have a way through the door for decision making, that's false," Fougere said in November.

Sandra Masters was one of nine people running for mayor of Regina. She won with more than 19,000 votes on Nov. 9, 2020. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

While on the campaign trail, Masters said she stays out of the fundraising intentionally and her finances go directly through an auditor. She said donations would not affect her decisions if elected.

"I would never want an interested party of any kind to actually think they had undue influence or sway on what I may do at city hall," Masters said in November. "The intention has to be, you serve the city first and whatever is best for the city is what needs to happen."

Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher says $200 is still a lot for the average person and the amount a single person can donate to a candidate should be lowered. (CBC)

Conacher said one way to increase election transparency would be to have disclosures weekly leading up to the election, instead of 90 days after the election is finished.

Also, setting a low donation limit would mean candidates would have to rely on individual citizens instead of getting donations from large businesses, he said. Having a donation limit of $50 or $100 would mean candidates wouldn't have a ton of money to spend unless they are supported by a lot of voters, "which is a democratic system," Conacher said. 

In lieu of that, a lower disclosure threshold would help, Conacher said, as for mayoral candidates only donations of $500 or more have to be declared and for councillors it's only $200 or more. As this means people could potentially donate just under the limit to not be declared.

He said $200 is still a lot of money for many people.

"If you lower the donation limit to an amount that an average voter can afford ... if you believe in the principle of one person, one vote, you don't want to allow people with money to use their money to have more influence," Conacher said.

Conacher said B.C. used to be called the 'wild west of political finance' and has since placed limits, Quebec has placed a ban on corporate and union donations to municipal candidates and he hopes Saskatchewan will follow suit. 

"Bring in some rules to ensure a democratic government."


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