News this week is that the mayor is thinking about Prince Albert developing something to ensure that what candidates spend on their campaign be public. It's not a new idea - I suggested that we develop campaign disclosure practices in my third term on council, and got very little support. The mayor at the time said that Prince Albert was too small for such a thing, and most councillors didn't disagree.
The article on local media suggests that $600 used to be the standard for spending. That is not true. That will cover one delivery of one flyer on plain paper with no colour to one ward. No signs, no advertising. I'm not a big spender, and my campaign usually costs between $1,000 and $2,000. That's for one delivery by Share of a plain paper flyer, signs, and maybe some advertising, but nothing fancy. If you see a candidate with a glossy, full-colour flyer, more than one delivery, signs, and colour ads in the local media, they're spending far more than $2,000. And that's just for councillors. If you're running for mayor, you have to spend money to get your word out city wide, and that costs incrementally more.
And that's not including those who spend money hosting teas or barbecues, or delivering fruit baskets to seniors' residences - practices that veer dangerously close to vote-buying, which is, of course, against the rules. But to enforce the rules, somebody has to go to court, which costs money.
Of course, big spending doesn't guarantee getting elected. It provides name recognition, but not much else. I'm often disappointed by the lack of actual information about candidates' plans, even in flyers, which is about the only place to provide decent background information, and so many candidates neglect this in favour of catchy slogans or meaningless fluff.
The other piece of the picture as far as campaign expenses go is who provides the funds? For example, if a local car dealership provides loaner cars for a campaign, might there be some favouritism shown the next time a tender goes out for city vehicles? The same would apply for any company that might be interested in doing work for the city - if they have helped to fund a member of council's campaign, and allowed to remain anonymous about it, such possible favouritism is not going to be known. I would include in-kind contributions here - no actual money changes hands, but the product that comes out, say free advertising coverage, does have a value, and should be counted.
My personal opinion is that any donation valued at more than $100 should be part of disclosure, and that where the money is spent is also important. And I'd go even further - I would make it illegal to spend money over a certain amount that provides direct products to some residents and not others - the aforementioned fruit baskets to seniors' residences being just one example. A benefit that is offered to all - the relatively common offer of a drive to the polls, for example - I don't think would be considered under this.
It all comes back to making your actions match your words. We heard a lot during the campaign and since about how council has to be transparent. Talk is cheap; it will be interesting to see how far council takes this in meaningful action.
"A basic tenet of a healthy democracy is open dialogue." - Peter Fenn