The Government of British Columbia introduced legislation for comprehensive reforms to the province’s election financing system.
The proposed Election Amendment Act, 2017 would set annual contribution limits, require “real-time” disclosure of donations, and ensure greater transparency and accountability of political parties and candidates to the public.
Key changes that place limits on political contributions include:
- A ban on corporate and union donations, including donations in kind, to political parties, their candidates and constituency associations.
- A ban on foreign donations, with the requirement that only individuals residing in British Columbia and who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents are eligible to donate.
- A maximum annual contribution limit of $2,500 for individuals to any one political party, and up to $2,500 to a party’s candidates and constituency associations (for a total allowable annual limit of $5,000 per year).
- Loans and guarantees to political parties and candidates must be only by a Canadian chartered bank or credit union at a fair rate of interest.
The proposed legislation includes a broader range of legislative measures that are aimed at creating a level playing field between political parties and third parties who sponsor election communications by applying the same rules. The amendments would regulate third party activities beyond paid advertising to include paid canvassing, direct mail and broadcasting opinion poll results if carried out on a paid commercial basis. Other measures include:
- Contributions to third parties will be limited to eligible individuals and limited to $2,500 per calendar year.
- Third party sponsors who raise more than $10,000 will be required to open a dedicated account at a financial institution for deposits and expenses.
- Sponsors who spend more than $10,000 on elections communications activities will require an audited disclosure report.
These reforms build on a similar bill that was introduced in March 2017, which included the following amendments:
- Lowering the threshold for reporting political contributions from a single contributor to $100 (currently it is $250).
- Reporting contributions by major political parties, candidates and constituency associations within 14 days of their deposit, including the nature of the contribution, whether it is a donation or a ticket charge or sponsorship at a fundraising function.
- Posting fundraising functions on the political party’s website within five days of the event.
- A penalty of $10,000 for failing to publish fundraising information as required.
- Giving the chief electoral officer authority to publish disclosure reports and other financing reports online.
- British Columbia would become, along with Ontario, the only two Canadian jurisdictions that require “real-time” reporting of political contributions.
- British Columbia has spending limits on parties during election campaign periods, regardless of how much parties raise. In the last election, it was $4.6 million for political parties and $73,000 for candidates.
- British Columbia’s current electoral financing system has largely been in place since 1996.