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October 27, 2017 5:03 pm

In Search of the Elusive Edge in B.C. Elections

Saturday, June 17, 2017 @ 6:57 AM

Athletes seek it, why wouldn’t politicians try and do the same?

The little things that can help a party gain an edge in a campaign where every vote really did count this time.

Those edges run the gamut from a sudden desire to visit every region of the province on government business while simultaneously holding party fundraisers to bombarding TV viewers with government ads underscored with “uplifting music.”

Ever wonder why B.C. political parties need so much cash?

To see if they can hit the province’s spending limits.

It doesn’t get much attention, but in keeping with B.C.’s Wild West political culture, there are a few anomalies between the province’s limits and pretty well every other jurisdiction that has caps in place.

At the federal level, candidate limits are set taking the number of voters into account and any special geographic considerations.

Thumbing its nose at such convention, the limit in B.C. is the same in all 87 ridings: $77,674.

Looked at from a per voter perspective, a candidate running in Vernon-Monashee would have been able to spend $1.64 per voter, while a candidate running in Stikine would have had a cap of $5.86 per voter.

The total for 87 candidates – a full slate in B.C. – was $6.75 million.

Using the 2015 federal spending limit, adjusting it for the difference in the length of a provincial campaign and the total would have been $3.27 million, less than half.

The spending limit for federal parties – on top of candidate spending – is less but it too relies on a per voter formula, as well as accounting for the number of candidates a party is running.

A federal party running a full-slate of candidates in B.C. would have seen the province account for $2.46 million of its overall limit in 2015.

What was it in B.C.? $4.88 million and it mattered not whether a party was running ten candidates or 87.

There were the third party pop-up groups, some of which went dark the day before the Writ dropped to avoid having to disclose their donors and spending.

Elections B.C. is investigating one group after a Richmond NDP candidate, Chak Au, filed a complaint over the group’s tactics.

In keeping with their dark-ops nature, King Chan – the only person identified in the group’s registration with Elections B.C. – told the Globe and Mail: “Obviously, I am a useless guy in the group. I’m pretty dumb; when they asked me to use my name, I agreed to it.”

Chan wouldn’t name the “bigger figures” saying: “I don’t know them and I don’t want to.”

Not to be out done, the B.C. Liberal party filed a complaint against two NDP Members of Parliament for alleged unregistered “election advertising” by distributing householders during the campaign.

It’s said to the victor go the spoils, something the Liberals have taken to heart when it comes to leveraging the perks of power.

In the first three months of 2017, Premier Christy Clark racked up $40,313 in travel expenses, about $2,000 less that what she claimed for the 12 months following the 2013 election.

If it could be upgraded or installed, a government news release was sure to go out.

Between January 1 and April 11, the government issued 1,148 releases, including reissuing releases from 2016.

The title may be a misnomer, but 42 factsheets materialized on a variety of hot-button issues, such as Site C, LNG and softwood lumber.

Parts of the 2013 Quick Wins strategy were dusted off to become the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s campaign for new highway stops of interest signs.

There was the $15 million TV ad buy that then-Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson, the minister responsible for government advertising at the time, claimed had been vetted by B.C.’s auditor general Carol Bellringer.

Wilkinson was taken to the woodshed by Bellringer shortly after that statement.

Despite the Liberal party’s best efforts to stack the deck in their favour, something interesting happened at the ballot box.

The B.C. Green party saw its vote go up by 185,702 over its 2013 result, the NDP by 79,251 and the Liberals by all of 1,398.

Before any party thinks of forcing a makeover of the election any time soon, they’d be well advised to remember that an election costs $44 million.


Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC. www.integritybc.ca


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