The following was originally posted on 25th June 2007. Today, after more than seven years and three elections, we are still no further forward.
In most civilized jurisdictions these days, the general public has demanded the right to know exactly who is funding politicians’ political campaigns. Having the names and amounts of donations made public goes some way to reducing the chance that a politician’s vote will be bought by outside financial interests.
This public accountability is required in the United States, in British Columbia, and in Canadian federal politics. But not so in Vancouver. As Allen Garr’s column in the Vancouver Courier last week pointed out, civic politicians in our fair municipality can raise all the cash they want prior to the year of the election and keep it all secret. And Mayor Sam Sullivan has been going all out, apparently having raised at least $300,000 since the last election. The next mayoral contest is at the end of 2008, so anything Sullivan (and others) raise before January 1st next year can be kept completely under wraps.
And this isn’t the first time our Mayor has used this provision notes Garr:
When Sullivan spends that money on hiring staff any time before 2008, according to the city clerk, he doesn’t have to report it. The same holds true for a poll he carried out last year and the public relations firms he regularly hires. As a result we may never know who donated any of that $300,000 or how it was spent. That same provision in the Vancouver Charter allowed Sullivan to refuse disclosing who supported his anti-ward campaign in 2005. As the city clerk explained, the anti-ward campaign preceded a “referendum” and not an “election.”
…. it was rumoured that a large donation to the anti-ward campaign caused Sullivan to change his vote and support slot-machines. He denies this. He also refuses to tell us who his donors were … Sullivan’s $300,000 in donations came from many business people, any one of whom may need council’s help to get a development approved between now and the next election.
The provincial government controls the Vancouver Charter. Both the governing provincial Liberals and Sam Sullivan are neo-con cousins of the first degree, so there seems little likelihood of getting the Charter changed in the near future. But, as Garr put it succintly:
[T]he chronic lack of disclosure caused by a secretive mayor and caucus taking advantage of a weak law leaves a bad smell.
Some of the players have changed, perhaps, but the system is still the same today as it was then.