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Election changes cause for concern for some Strathcona Regional District directors
Some Strathcona Regional District directors are concerned that impending changes to local elections legislation may restrict individuals from publicly voicing their opinions.
The province recently released its White Paper, which lays out the changes drafted by a joint provincial and Union of B.C. Municipalities task force, but some directors were hesitant to accept it.
Noba Anderson, director for Cortes Island, said her concerns with the White Paper first surfaced after she was approached by a Cortes resident who was unclear about the changes to third-party advertising.
“His concern is given the lack of a definition around third party,” Anderson said at the Oct. 9 regional board meeting.
“Could it extend to an individual? If that’s the case, it looks like an individual who wants to say something positive or negative about a local candidate would have to file an application.
“If it’s taken to try and minimize the speech of the electorate, then I’m entirely not in favour of it,” Anderson added.
The White Paper defines third party advertising as election advertising that is not sponsored by a candidate as part of his or her election campaign or election advertising that is not sponsored by an elector organization as part of its election campaign.
As it stands now, third party advertisers can take out ads anonymously for or against election candidates, with no limit on spending.
Under the changes, all third party advertisers must register with Elections BC before sponsoring any election advertising and anonymous sponsorship contributions will be prohibited.
Director Claire Moglove, also a Campbell River councillor, said that in her mind the confusion surrounds the definition of advertising, not third party.
“There’s a difference between writing a letter to the editor in the newspaper complaining about a candidate and spending $3,000 to take out a series of ads in a newspaper saying this candidate is no good,” Moglove said.
“So I think the lack of clarity is around the word advertising.”
Director Jim Abram (Quadra Island/Discovery Islands) agreed there was “a lack of clarity in what we’re reading today.”
In the end, the board elected to write to the B.C. Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development regarding the lack of clarity around the definition of third party advertising.
There is still time for the board to receive and consider the province’s feedback before the changes take effect.
The province is planning to implement the new recommendations using a phased approach.
The first, which are outlined in the White Paper, are expected to be implemented in time for the 2014 local elections.
A change to campaign financing limits will be delayed until the 2017 local elections.
According to the province, the changes to the local government legislation are aimed at improving accountability, enhancing transparency, strengthening compliance and enforcing and expanding education and advice to all election participants.
- Banning anonymous contributions
- Disclosure and registration by third-party advertisers
- Sponsorship information requirements for all election advertising
- Requirements for all campaign finance disclosure statements to be filed 90 days after an election rather than 120 days
- Enabling a key role for Elections BC in compliance and enforcement of campaign finance rules in local elections
- Enacting a separate Act for campaign finance rules in local elections