It is important that how elections are funded, and what that funding can be spent on, be clearly defined and carefully monitored. That’s why the province has strong campaign finance laws, as does the federal government.
Unfortunately, municipal election rules are weak – they increase the possibility for corruption and lead to unfair elections. As candidates, both of us believe it’s time to strengthen our campaign finance rules.
Elections in the HRM are governed by the provincial Municipal Elections Act. The same election rules apply to all municipalities in Nova Scotia, which means that the same law applies in Annapolis Royal (population 444,) as in the HRM (population 400,000.)
Candidates must disclose any donation over $50. Candidates don’t have to tell us how they spent the money, or even if they spent the money after all. Legally, the donations count as gifts, and the candidates can just pocket the surplus at the end of the election.
In order to provide a fair and level playing field, we propose modeling HRM’s municipal campaign finance rules on the provincial rules, but with lower donation limits that match the smaller scale of municipal campaigns. Specifically:
- Corporations, partnerships and unions would no longer be allowed to contribute to municipal election campaigns.
- Individuals, including the candidates themselves, would be permitted to donate up to $1000 per campaign.
- Contributions exceeding $50 per candidate per year would continue to be subject to public disclosure. For audit purposes, a receipt would be issued for any contribution exceeding $25.
- The candidate will no longer be allowed to act as his or her own official agent and each campaign will be required to have a separate bank account.
- The municipal election will only accept expenses that qualify as election spending as defined by the provincial rules. Examples of what would be allowed include: campaign office rent, worker payments, advertising and travel costs.
- We would limit the amount that can be claimed for candidates’ personal expenses to $1000.
- Most importantly, any campaign surplus must be turned over to a registered charity prior to submitting the final expense report to the Chief Returning Officer. This prevents incumbents from becoming too entrenched in office as they will no longer be able to spend the surplus from one campaign during their next.
Our proposed guidelines will make municipal elections more transparent and less open to corruption. They will level the playing field between candidates – energizing our democracy, ensuring our elections are based on people and ideas, rather than on money.
We urge candidates to at least support campaign finance reform if elected. Ideally, we would like to see candidates meet or exceed these proposed guidelines during this election. Our local democracy is important. Isn’t it time we had leaders committed to strengthening it?
Waye Mason, Candidate, District 7
Matt Worona, Candidate, Mayor of HRM
Note to readers: Matt Worona is running for mayor and Matt has been championing this issue since he announced his campaign, challenging all other candidates to address this critical issue.
While I am not endorsing any candidate for mayor, campaign finance reform is very important and Matt has made a great case, and done a lot of hard work to keep this in the news. It was a pleasure to work with him on this proposal.
We urge all candidates in all districts to come out with strong statements supporting reform, or to adopt this proposal as their own.