City councillors reviewed an independent report on campaign finance reform during an executive committee meeting on Tuesday.
The report, put together by the Saskatoon Municipal Review Commission (SMRC), made several recommendations for changes to the City of Saskatoon bylaw governing city election campaigns.
All told, the SMRC made 22 recommendations. Members of the executive committee – which is comprised of city councillors and the mayor – voted on each one. Recommendations that were carried will eventually go to a full city council meeting for approval before being implemented.
The full report from the SMRC can be found online attached to the Dec. 8 executive committee agenda. Some of the recommendations the committee looked at were:
1. The committee approved a recommendation to lower the size of donation that requires a candidate to disclose the donor’s name. Under the current rules, the limit is $250. The committee agreed that it should be lowered to $100.
2. Currently, campaign finance limits for councillors are set based on what the mayor is allowed to spend. Mayoral campaigns are allowed to spend 75 cents per voter, with councillors’ campaigns allowed to spend one-tenth of that total. The committee approved a recommendation from the SMRC to index the 75 cent limit to inflation, with 2012 as a base year.
3. The executive committee passed a recommendation that the election bylaw be amended to specify the records candidates will have to keep, including that they issue receipts for contributions and provide receipts for all expenses .
4. The committee approved a recommendation requiring candidates for mayor to appoint an official agent. That person would be in charge of keeping financial records for the campaign. The recommendation allowed for a candidate to designate themselves as their own official agent.
5. The committee agreed to a recommendation that costs incurred by campaigns in order to comply with the new requirements should have to be reported, but wouldn’t be counted against the campaign spending limit.
6. The committee approved a recommendation that mayoral campaigns be reimbursed the cost of mandatory independent audits, where the expense is $5,000 or more.
7. The SMRC recommended that the city continue the practice of not requiring mandatory independent audits for campaigns for city councillor. During debate, the mayor, councillor Ann Iwanchuk and councillor Pat Lorje all said they favoured audits for all campaigns.
Councillors Tiffany Paulsen and Zach Jeffries both expressed worries at the cost of such a policy. Given that the last election saw 28 candidates for councillor, Paulsen said she worried about the expense of reimbursing audit costs for that many campaigns. Ultimately, the committee voted in favour of not requiring the audits for people running for council. The SMRC report noted that campaigns for councillor positions could still be audited by the city on a case-by-case basis
8. The committee approved a recommendation requiring candidates to keep their financial records for the term of the office they ran for.
9. The committee approved a recommendation requiring that the costs for fundraising events be recorded, but not counted against election spending limits.
10. The SMRC recommended that any surplus left over after a campaign be handed to the city to be held in trust until the next election, should that person choose to run. This recommendation met with some pushback from councillors Iwanchuck and Eric Olauson. Both likened the idea to ‘Big Brother,’ saying they weren’t comfortable being forced to hand over money to the city. Olausen said he felt that donors who give a candidate money are effectively saying they trust the candidate to use it appropriately. He said it should be at a candidates’ discretion to deal with any surplus.
The recommendation was defeated.
11. The SMRC recommended that a surplus from a candidate who doesn’t run in a subsequent election be held in trust and then donated to a charity of a candidates’ choice. The recommendation was also defeated, with councillors expressing similar reservations about being compelled to hand donations over to the city. Councillor Darren Hill said it was appropriate for candidates to report on what they do with a surplus, and said he intended to to do so regardless of whether he was required to.
12. Next, councillors looked at three separate recommendations that related to when candidates could start collecting donations and when they could start spending the money. The SMRC recommended that candidates be required to only spend during what was referred to as the ‘campaign period.’ Another two recommendations called for candidates not to be allowed to raise money or spend donations until they were officially nominated, and called for the campaign contribution period, expense period and nomination period to all be synced up. Several councillors expressed reservations about these recommendations.
Councillors Charlie Clark and Mairin Loewen both said they feared the changes could effectively make municipal campaigns almost a year long and worried what effect such a move would have on the functioning of council.
Ultimately, the committee voted to defer all three items pending further study by the SMRC.
13. The committee agreed with the SMRC recommendation to keep the same publishing requirements for statements on expenses and contributions.
14. The committee approved a recommendation prohibiting campaign expenses from being carried forward.
15. The SRMC recommended that campaigns be required to open separate bank accounts. The city solicitor indicated that under the Local Government Act, the city likely didn’t have the authority to set such a requirement on its own. The committee voted to send a request to the province for an amendment to make the change.
16. The committee voted to approve a recommendation that the city clerk no longer be appointed as the chief returning officer. Mayor Don Atchison said this was, in his view, the most important recommendation from the committee. He said he didn’t think it was fair to the clerk, who serves at the pleasure of council, to have to serve as the returning officer — effectively scrutinizing the campaigns of their potential boss. Atchison said he was glad to see the policy on its way to being changed.
17. A recommendation calling on the city to work with the federal and provincial governments to compile a city voters list was referred to the administration for a report.
18. The committee voted unanimously in favour of a recommendation to ask the province for an amendment to the Cities Act. The amendment would make penalties for breaching the city’s campaign finance bylaw apply to defeated candidates as well as successful ones.
19. The committee rejected recommendations calling for a limit on individual donations to campaigns, bans on donations from unions and corporations and bans on donations from people outside Saskatchewan.
During debate, councillor Eric Olauson said donation limits had the potential to limit people’s participation in the democratic process. He noted that it’s already quite difficult to raise money for a municipal campaign, where donors receive no tax receipt for their contributions. He said that while he wasn’t in favour of contribution limits, he absolutely supported transparency around the disclosure of where money was coming from.
Councillor Charlie Clark, said he was concerned about the role of money in politics and said he supported the limits. Other councillors noted that they had received contributions from friends and family outside of Saskatchewan. They said it was likely too far-reaching to put geographical limits on where a donation can come from.
Speaking after the committee had finished going over the report, Atchison said he didn’t think the recommendations would make it to the December meeting of City Council, given the time required to have the clerk and the city solicitor put together the necessary paperwork. He said it as more likely that council would look at the issue again in January.