The question of the place of money in democracy and elections has long been a thorny one, but local elections in relatively small communities such as those that comprise the Cowichan Valley have long been a bit of a bastion, where candidates didn’t have to be either independently wealthy or well financially backed to win a seat on council, or the mayor’s chair.
That is changing. Sadly.
Fundraising is a huge part of the life of many federal and provincial politicians, with the major political parties needing millions in the kitty to fund an election campaign.
And to be clear, it still isn’t that extreme for local candidates — and we believe that shoe leather still holds a lot of sway in garnering votes municipally. The more doors a candidate can knock on, the more people they can get out and meet, the better.
But increasingly, candidates also need to have a pretty substantial bank balance, and that’s troubling when one considers that ideally, anyone should be able to run for office and stand an equal chance of winning.
Last election North Cowichan mayoral candidates topped the expense chart, with the top two spending more than $20,000 apiece. This year, expense limits have been set, but we won’t see a reduction in dollars they’re allowed to spend. For the 2018 campaign the mayoral candidate limit for North Cowichan is a whopping $23,588.80. Councillors can spend up to $11,872.48. In Duncan and Lake Cowichan the mayoral limit is $10,000. For councillors it’s $5,000.
That’s a lot of money for many people. Not that everyone will spend to the max, but more than $10,000 to be a North Cowichan councillor? More than $23,000 to be mayor? Yikes. It’s certainly becoming out of reach for a lot of good people who might look at that and be discouraged.
Money should not define a successful candidacy. It’s not yet too late to stop the trend at the local level.