By not supporting Coun. Bell’s motion, Mayor Musatto and three councillors have squandered a rare opportunity.
It’s the talk of the town. Wherever you go, whomever you talk to, the conversation in the City of North Vancouver inevitably turns to a common anxiety that seems to grip the city in an ever-tightening vise: The developer-politician nexus. There is apprehension and a helplessness with which people talk about decisions that suggest some councillors are beholden to developers. And the roots of this apprehension are the campaign donations accepted by Mayor Darrell Musatto and Councillors Linda Buchanan, Holly Back and Craig Keating in the 2014 elections. The sentiment is that City of North Vancouver is always open for business when it comes to developers and campaign donations is a big part of it. In the council chambers on September 18, the Mayor and the three councillors lost an excellent opportunity to allay the public fears over what is seen as too cosy developer-politician relationship. But rather than allay those fears, they chose to amplify them.
By not supporting Coun. Don Bell’s motion, Mayor Musatto and three councillors have squandered an opportunity to set the record straight and confirmed the worst fear of the people who helped them get elected. The new BC government led by NDP is proposing a ban on corporate and union donations and limiting individual donations to $1200. Councillor Don Bell’s motion called for CNV to go on record and support a UBCM Resolution which calls upon the province to extend those same campaign finance reforms to the local level. Bell said a similar motion was put forward by the City of North Vancouver in 2015 which was endorsed by the UBCM.
“I intend as a delegate to support this at the convention next week, but it strengthens it in light of our motion in 2015 to say that the city council had voted in favour. And I did add that any council member is free to vote according to their own conscience in any resolution, and the province is in the process of no corporate and union donations and that has been announced by the NDP and the greens. I think this applied to federal and provincial and it should apply to local elections.”
Bell’s motion was largely symbolic. Beyond signalling that City of North Vancouver councillors wanted to be part of election reform, there isn’t much this motion could have achieved. And even on the UBCM floor, individual councillors have the power to vote for or against a motion, irrespective of how they may have voted in the council. Still, Mayor Darrell Musatto and three councillors voted against the motion and frittered away an opportunity to quell the persistent anxieties of their constituents. This was a godsend for Mayor Musatto. He could have grabbed and appropriated the motion. He could have sided with Don Bell and encouraged a discussion on campaign finance reform in the council chambers and UBCM. He could have supported the spirit of the motion and let it go to UBCM for further discussion, especially when he knew he had the choice of not supporting the motion in UBCM. He didn’t do any of this. He grumbled about how this discussion was back again.
Minutes later, he had voted against it and pushed it to darkness. This was the brief comment he made: “I don’t know how many times we have had this on council for the last 24 years I have been here and now we are going to do this again. I have to remind that we can pass all the motions you want to pass here, but as a council member you can vote however you may want at the UBCM. We are not bound by what we pass here. If we did pass something here, we will have to follow provincial legislation which governs how we operate and spend in the elections.” While Councillors Linda Buchanan and Holly Back didn’t say anything on the motion, Coun. Rod Clarke waded into the conversation with a reminder of how relevant the motion was. “If ever there was a motion that applied to the City of North Vancouver, it is this one. We have kicked this around many times. Coun Guy Heywood brought this motion. I brought this motion, and I think there was one even previous to that, all trying to put some limit on corporate and union donations. In the last elections, there was a $100,000 raised in the development community for the election of the mayor and the councillors,” he said. The motion that former Coun. Guy Heywood brought forward in 2013, a year before the election, called upon the City of North Vancouver election candidates to abstain from accepting donations from developers with projects or potential projects before Council or from labour unions that represent employees of the City.
“The appearance of a conflict of interest is created when developers and unions that make significant contributions to election campaigns also have matters that come before Council and that whether or not these conflicts are permitted in law, they harm the reputation of Council and impair the legitimacy of its decisions,” the resolution stated and called upon all candidates to abstain from accepting donations from developers and labour unions,” the resolution stated and called upon all candidates to abstain from accepting donations from developers and labour unions.
Speaking in favour of the motion in 2013, Coun. Pam Bookham said it was not necessary to accept money to be successful in politics. “I have run successfully in the last three elections and I have never sought corporate or union donations. Ninety per cent of the money spent is by myself. There is a great deal of concern with all levels of government as to how ordinary people can participate in the elections and not find that outcome is interfered with people who have built a campaign as a virtue of campaign contribution,” she said.
Coun. Don Bell was also supportive of the motion: “It’s not enforceable, but it’s a guiding principle and it will help in the desire to seek transparency and clearly reinforce the image that the decisions made are based on the evidence of the application and not influenced by donations.”
Mayor Musatto voted against that motion in 2013. “People assume there is a return favour that is applied, but that just isn’t the case. I realise that there are some who may not have the ability to get elected. I do realise that when I first ran in 1993, I received funds from the CUPE, the union and it helped me pay for the election and without that I wouldn’t have been able to do this. I think a vast majority of elected members do so (contest elections) for the right reasons. I think everyone on this table does so for the right reasons,” he said.
Councillor Craig Keating, too, voted against the motion in 2013: “I have been transparent about this. What is going on with Rob Ford and what was happening in the Senate were problematic because those things were being hid and I haven’t attempted to hide anything that I have done. People also know that my fundraising has been done in keeping with the law. There are people who would never be able to get involved with politics if it wasn’t for fundraiser of one kind. I don’t find that wrong, if you want union endorsement, you accept the union contribution,” he said. Keating likened the motion to an insult and said many people won’t have a chance to get elected without any funding from union or corporate donors. There was one way, however, where he could support such a motion: “I won’t support this, but if there was another resolution that condemned the provincial government for its failure to introduced legislation on this area for their lack of courage, I would support that. If the provincial government came with a proposal to ban union and corporate donations, then I will support that,” he told the council in 2013. In the light of his words from 2013, this was exactly the kind of motion he should have brought.
But Keating the councillor could be different from Keating the party president, and he underlined that difference by voting against the motion brought by Coun. Don Bell, offering once again a long-winded technical explanation for why he won’t support the motion. “At the end of the day, banning union and corporations is one thing, but as we saw in the last municipal elections, a single individual contributed over $80,000. So, the language doesn’t talk about campaign donation limit. It’s in my mind deficient in terms of the proposal when we talk about donation limit. It’s worth noting that UBCM does have a policy and UBCM policy is to support the recommendation of the all-party committee that reports to the legislature. That was supported by all and that said significant campaign spending limits would be in place.
That was something that was worked out with other municipalities, and while this kind of language may work here in North Vancouver, it may not work in other places,” he said. Keating said he would stick with what UBCM had already endorsed and which might be the operating regimen in the next election which would also reduce campaign spending limits.
“Where the money comes from is another question and that will be dealt with in the course of time. I have to say I find the resolutions problematic because it’s two things at one in that it asks CNV council to supports this and then you are also free not to support this at UBCM. It doesn’t answer the personal election limits envisioned by Coun. Bell and how that would work across the province and why it’s a better system than the one that was endorsed by the UBCM,” he wondered.
Here is what Keating could have done: Rather than picking apart the resolution before rejecting it soundly, he could have mentioned that this was exactly the kind of motion he wanted to see in 2013 when NDP wasn’t in power. He could have amended the motion to create a better one, urging the council to send it to UBCM.
In an ideal world, Keating would have improved on the motion rather than help bag it. Former City of North Vancouver Councillor Guy Heywood said he brought the motion because he wanted to make a strong point about the ethical conflict in campaign donations. The motion wasn’t intended to discourage modest contributions from individuals who may even be employees at bigger organisations, but rather it was intended to discourage bigger companies who have a direct pecuniary interest in matters that come before city council.
“Municipalities are ‘creatures’ of provincial legislation and their elections are governed by provincial statute. However, that didn’t mean I couldn’t propose a motion, even if it would only have the power of moral persuasion, to say that the legitimacy of council decisions was brought into question when councillors took money from organizations that relied on its decisions,” Hewyood said. He said while it appears that corporate and union funding of political campaigns is going to disappear at the provincial level, it’s a safe assumption that the same would happen at a local level.
However, he said his worry that this policy might not be in time for the upcoming 2018 election.
Andrew Watson, the manager of Elections BC, said that in 2016, the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act was amended to include spending limits for municipal elections. These limits will come into effect for the 2018 municipal elections scheduled for next year. The limits will vary across jurisdictions and there will be different limits for mayor and councillors. The limits will be calculated by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Ministry of Education. They will provide the limits to Elections BC for publication on the website.