Apr 14, 2010

Local elections need level playing field

BURNABY—Local elections in British Columbia should be conducted under the supervision of BC’s Chief Electoral Officer, and the province should reject calls to grant corporations the right to vote, CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill said today in a submission to the Local Government Elections Task Force.

“The civic elections in 2008 saw an average voter turnout of just 27 per cent,” said O’Neill. “That’s nowhere near good enough, and we believe that increasing transparency and accountability during election campaigns could be a significant factor in encouraging citizen engagement and participation in the democratic process.

“CUPE members are taxpayers and voters too, and it’s important to us that local elected officials are accountable to the public. Improved standards of disclosure will go a long way to improving that accountability,” said O’Neill.

The BC Liberal government formed the task force late last year, and directed it to make recommendations to improve local elections, reporting to the government by May 30, 2010. The key areas of legislation under examination by the task force, along with CUPE BC’s position, are as follows:

• Campaign finance, including contribution/spending disclosure and limits, and tax credits. CUPE BC position: provincial standards of disclosure should apply; any new limits to local election contributions or spending should also apply to provincial elections.

• Enforcement processes and outcomes. CUPE BC position: that enforcement provisions for local government elections be revised to be substantially similar to those in the BC Elections Act.

• Role of the chief electoral officer (B.C.) in local government elections. CUPE BC position: Elections BC should be given the authority to provide oversight of the local government elections process. Such authority should include providing training and advice to local elections officers as well as candidates, electoral organizations and campaign organizers and would ensure consistency in interpretations and applications of the rules.

• Corporate vote. CUPE BC position: Only one other jurisdiction in the world (the financial district of London, England known as “the City”) allows corporations to vote, and those lobbying for a corporate vote in BC have simply not made the case for allowing non-humans to vote in elections. There should be no corporate vote in local elections, for the same reasons we do not allow corporations to vote in provincial or federal elections.

O’Neill said he was disappointed by the BC Liberal government’s decision to keep submissions to the task force secret, and urged the government to change course and post all submissions on the Internet. “How can closed-door meetings and secret policy submissions result in better democracy?” said O’Neill.

View CUPE BC’s submission.

COPE 491