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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Municipal election campaign rebates

One recommendation that came forward from the Governance Task Force last spring was that council consider implementing a rebate system for individuals who contribute to candidates in municipal election campaigns as a means of getting the public more involved in municipal elections and in order to level the playing field. This is currently how both federal and provincial election financing works, although there are significant differences in how they are implemented. The recommendation was included in the administration's implementation plan which was accepted by Board of Control on September 16th.

What a difference a couple of weeks makes! On Wednesday the Board received the report from staff which included a draft by-law for consideration and the recommendation that should we wish to proceed, we call a public participation meeting before the Board of Control for October 21st. I spoke in favour of moving ahead with this but the Board, by a vote of 4-1, chose to take no action.

I am not surprised: current members of the Board (myself excepted) have relied very heavily on corporate donations. Their experience is that the current system has given them a strategic advantage over any challengers who are not blessed by corporate interests and although there will be no Board of Control to run for in the future, that advantage may stand them in good stead should they decide to run for mayor or a ward seat.

The by-law prepared by staff was moderate and well thought out. It called for a rebate of 75% for donations between $50 and $100, and 50% for anything over $100. The maximum amount to be rebated would be $200 regardless of the amount donated or number of candidates supported. Only actual money donated would qualify for a rebate. Donations of less than $50 would not qualify. Only individual donors (not unions or corporations) would qualify for the rebates. Candidates, spouses and children would not qualify for rebates. Only residents of London could apply. Participation in the rebate program by candidates would be voluntary. For the full details click on Item 21 on http://www.london.ca/d.aspx?s=/meetings/Board%20of%20Control%20Agendas/2009-09-30%20Agenda/MeetingPackages.htm

An obvious objection made is that the proposal has cost implications and this is not the time for any additional expenses. This was the argument of the Mayor. But many proposals have cost implications. The usual approach is to refer worthwhile proposals to the budget process where we establish what we can afford and what the priorities are. Simply dismissing it means the public have no opportunity for input on a recommendation made by a Task Force that held extensive public hearings.

Clearly this Board of Control is not interested in hearing from the public. This shouldn't surprise us. This is why I ran for the Board of Control in 2006, because I wanted a Board of Control that listens and responds. This is why I thought the Board of Control should be abolished. This is why it will be gone by the time of the next election.

It will be interesting to see what Council does with this on Monday.

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