Crawl Across the Ocean

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

B.C. Local Government Elections Task Force

"Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough and I will move the world"

Archimedes, 220 BC

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With the hecticity of moving, plus keeping the regular Tuesday schedule for the series on ethics, I’ve let something slide that I meant to post on a long time ago.

The provincial government in B.C. convened a task force to study possible reform to how municipal elections are conducted in B.C.

Paul Willcocks had a good post on the topic, and Sacha, at Double Blind, expressed his opinion (which I 90% agree with) as well.

There are 6 topics under review:

· Campaign finance, including contribution/spending disclosure and limits, and tax credits
· Enforcement processes and outcomes
· Role of the chief electoral officer (B.C.) in local government elections
· Election cycle (term of office)
· Corporate vote
· Other agreed upon matters (e.g. matters raised in UBCM resolutions such as eligibility of local government volunteers to be candidates)

The website also provides discussion papers on all of these topics.

Due to my tardiness, the deadline for submissions is tomorrow (e.g. April 15) so if you have something you want to say to the government, do it quickly. Reform in how elections are conducted is the sort of thing that can have an impact far behind what seems apparent at first glance, as it influences who gets elected, which in turn influences all the policy that gets implemented and how our elected representatives behave and so on. My point is that I highly recommend anyone concerned about local governance in B.C. to make themselves heard, either email to:

localelectionstaskforce@gov.bc.ca

Or fill in the submission form

My submission is included below. On the off-chance that anyone wishes to use my words in their own submission, be my guest.

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Dear Task Force, please see the following for my comments on the topics under review, organized by topic:

Re: Campaign finance, including contribution/spending disclosure and limits, and tax credits

I believe that campaign contributions should only be made by individuals as opposed to organizations. Organizations represent special interests, whereas individuals reflect the full spectrum of human interests. Given that all organizations are comprised of individuals, there seems to be no reason to allow donations to be made by organizations. This would mean no campaign contributions from unions, corporations, charities, or other organizations.

Within the class of individuals, only those residing within a given community should be eligible to make donations.

In terms of personal contributions, I support legislation mandating (relatively high) contribution limits or at the least mandating timely (i.e. prior to the election) disclosure of any contributions exceeding a certain dollar threshold (e.g. $100). This could be supported by banning donations above the threshold from taking place within a certain time period (e.g. 7 days) prior to the election. Providing disclosure prior to the election would allow voters to take this information into consideration in their voting decisions.

Anonymous campaign contributions should be illegal above a low threshold (e.g. $20). Transparency is the friend of good government, secrecy is not.

I support public financing of electoral candidates for municipal elections (similar to the federal model), although I acknowledge that the implementation might be tricky in the non-party based world of municipal politics. One possibility would be to offer public financing of a flat amount, where this amount needs to be repaid by any candidate earning less than a certain percentage of the popular vote. This would keep the system relatively simple, avoid any bias for or against political parties and their members, and prevent people from running simply to collect the public subsidy.

Alternatively, passing legislation that enables municipal governments to set their own bylaws with respect to campaign finance laws would be a good first step.

The general principles of campaign finance should be the provision of a level playing field for all members of society, and the provision of as much information (on a timely basis) to the voters as current technology allows.


Re: Enforcement processes and outcomes

I do not feel I have the necessary experience or expertise to comment on this matter in a useful manner.


Re: Role of the chief electoral officer (B.C.) in local government elections

I do not see a need for elections BC to get significantly more involved in municipal elections. The one area where I see a possible benefit is in providing a central point of information collection and distribution. i.e. Elections BC could maintain a website/information service containing information relating to municipal elections (e.g. candidate eligibility rules, campaign finance rules, disclosure of contributions, etc.) across the province. This would help with ensuring that the information was widely accessibly and presented in a standardized format across the province.


Re: Election cycle (term of office)

The current election cycle of three years seems reasonable and I see no reason to fix this unbroken clock. Having said that, I don’t see that switching to a four year election cycle would really cause any serious harm either.


Re: Corporate vote

I am a strong believer in the principle of one person, one vote and do not believe that people who own corporations should be allowed to cast more votes than those who don't.

Aside from the practical difficulties, the fact that in a world of democracy it is almost unheard of for corporations to be allowed to vote and the fact that B.C. has tried this approach before and rejected it, the underlying rationale does not make any sense.

From the materials provided on the website, the primary rationale seems to be that by allowing corporations to vote, their interests will be taken into greater consideration. This is certainly true, but you could make the same argument for pets. If, for example, dog owners, were allowed one additional vote for every dog they owned, it seems likely that policies more beneficial to dogs would be implemented. This does not, however, seem like a reasonable approach. Just as there is no logical reason why the interests of dogs deserves special consideration that takes precedence over the principle of one-person, one-vote, so to, there is no logical reason why the interests of corporations deserves special consideration that takes precedence over the principle of one person, one vote.

Finally, I believe that anyone casting a vote should be a person who reflects the full range of human experience and emotion. A corporation, by nature, is specifically limited in focus to making a profit, whereas human voters consider a wide range of matters, from having a strong economy, to having an aesthetically pleasing built and natural environment, to human safety, to the legacy left for our children and so on. Allowing additional votes to be cast by entities that represent only one facet of the human experience (striving for material gain) without adding additional votes to entities that represent other facets of human experience will bias election results in favour of a certain aspect of humanity at the expense of other aspects.


Re: Other agreed upon matters (e.g. matters raised in UBCM resolutions such as eligibility of local government volunteers to be candidates)

No comment.

Thank you for your consideration of my comments,
Declan.

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5 Comments:

  • On one person one vote:

    As a business cannot literally vote, a proxy must be designated. This means that in some cases, one person may vote twice in a municipal election. Like is happenning in every voting place, in every election in BC today.

    For example, a business owner who operates a business in Richmond and lives in Richmond could vote twice in the Richmond election, once AS the proxy vote for the business and once as a resident. Some find this idea offensive as they believe strongly in the idea of one vote per person. However, the business is really the “person” with the voting rights in this case.

    The business gets the right to vote as it is taxed. Thus, the principle of no taxation without representation is respected.

    There is much precedent for proxy voting. Many people currently cast two ballots in local government elections in BC. Blind people, those that cannot speak English well and those that can’t read all currently have the ability to designate proxies who may reside in the same municipality. Many proxy voters then vote twice in the same election.

    It is also worth noting that BC law recognises a business as a person with all of the responsibilities of a person. Governments require businesses to abide by the same laws and regulations as a person and subject to the same liabilities. Shouldn’t some of the rights attached to the responsibilities of personhood also apply to businesses, especially in light of the onerous tax burden they are being forced to endure?

    By Blogger brian.bonney, at 8:12 AM  

  • "For example, a business owner who operates a business in Richmond and lives in Richmond could vote twice in the Richmond election, once AS the proxy vote for the business and once as a resident."

    Are you sure about that? It doesn't, sound lie it to me. Not to mention the discussion paper on the corporate vote says, "British Columbia is currently consistent with most other jurisdictions in not having a corporate vote."


    The business is a 'person' in commercial matters, not government matters. And it has commercial responsibilities, not governmental responsibilities.

    For example, a business can not be drafted into the army, it can't hold office, it is ineligible for awards such as the Order of Canada, it can't serve on a jury, it couldn't be a member of the citizen's assembly, etc.

    Nice try, though - although you should have left out the bit about the 'onerous' burden at the end, as it made it sound like you were arguing from self-interest rather than on the basis of the public good.

    By Blogger Declan, at 10:45 PM  

  • Wait... is this serious? A corporate vote? What bizarre anti-democratic disease is afflicting BC? Will labour unions, charities, and service organizations get the vote too? Will this one day feature in a Heritage Moment?

    I'm stunned. How does such a patently ridiculous, absurd, and downright wrong idea even get proposed? I can't conceive of it. What are you guys smoking?

    (Okay, well, I know the answer to that last one.)

    By Blogger Josh, at 10:23 PM  

  • "How does such a patently ridiculous, absurd, and downright wrong idea even get proposed?"

    Presumably there are people who agree with Brian and who have political influence...

    I can't really see them going ahead with it, but I've been overly optimistic before...

    By Blogger Declan, at 10:00 PM  

  • re: Election Cycle
    I live in a small Interior town. When There were annual elections with two-year terms for council members, then we had a reasonably good civic government. The current three-year all-turnover is not good. Last election we had seven candidates for six council positions. Further, it is hard to influence a government that has three years to go. I really really want to go back to the old way. When people say "it's too expensive", I ask them, "how much does democracy cost?"

    By Anonymous CCBC, at 2:39 AM  

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