Campaign spending limits raise eyebrows in Trinity-Spadina
A greater number of housing units and smaller spending limits don’t add up in Ward 20, two candidates say
Campaign spending limits released by the City of Toronto ahead of the Nov. 13 municipal election have left candidates in Ward 20 feeling a little shortchanged.
Toronto’s city clerk announced on Oct. 10. that candidates in the municipal election can spend $5,000 plus 70 cents per elector on the official voters’ list in their ward, as outlined in the Municipal Elections Act.
That adds up to just over $31,000 per candidate in Ward 20.
Adam Vaughan, former journalist and candidate for Ward 20, found himself scratching his head over a smaller voters’ list, despite a boom in condo construction since the 2003 election.
“It’s a little unexpected to be campaigning in a riding where you’ve got building after building after building left off the list because they’ve been built in the last three years,” he said. “And yet, somehow, after adding thousands of new housing units, we have a smaller voter list. It doesn’t make sense.
“You’ve got more work to do with less money.”
‘It’s more about access to voting’
The $31,000 each Ward 20 candidate can spend on their campaign is meant to cover the cost of an office and paid staff, and the production and distribution of promotional material, including signage and pamphlets.
Helen Kennedy, also vying for the Ward 20 council seat, said she’s not as concerned with the implications of a smaller voters’ list on fundraising and spending.
“I’m more concerned with the fact that the number of people on the list has reduced,” she said. “It’s more about the access to voting and the number of people on the list than it is about the actual amount of money that a campaign gets to spend.”
Vaughan blamed the confusion over the shrinking voters’ list on a lack of interest from the political establishment at both the municipal and provincial levels.
“I don’t think the province cares that much, and certainly the political class up at Queen’s Park doesn’t really care if there’s an accurate or an inaccurate list,” he said.
“Quite frankly, the political establishment at City Hall doesn’t care. They have their own lists and don’t really rely on the voters’ list.”
The Municipal Elections Act lays out what candidates in Ontario must do to comply with campaign financing regulations, and what role a municipality plays in administering an election.
Greg Essensa, Director of Elections and Registry Services for the City of Toronto, explained how the city oversees campaign finances.
“Once (a candidate) files their nomination paper, they can begin to collect contributions (and) they can begin to incur expenses,” he said.
“Each candidate has a requirement under the Act to file financial statements as of March 31.”
It’s not about how much money you can raise
Despite the strict limits and post-election oversight, Kennedy said she sees the limits as vital to the democratic process in the city.
“I think spending limits are really important,” she said. “It gives opportunity for everybody to get in the race and participate. It shouldn’t be about how much money you can raise. It should be about getting your message out in terms of who you are and what you want for the community.”
Kennedy also downplayed smaller spending limits, noting there are ways to reduce campaign costs.
“The Internet has changed everything,” she said. “It’s a lot cheaper now to get in touch with people. In terms of e-mail, you don’t have to pay for postage to get your message out. And volunteers – they really do make the difference.”
Vaughan said his campaign has implemented a new and unique practice on his website.
“One of the things we have done that no other campaign has ever done is to post the donors to our campaign in real time online, before the vote,” he said.
“As soon as the cheque clears the bank and registers as a deposit, we post their name on the website so that people can see that we’re living up to our promise not to take money from lobbyists, not to take cash from unions, and not to take donations from developers.”
Vaughan also acknowledged the disadvantage of running against an opponent who has access to the resources of a political party.
“If you’re running against someone who’s got the backing of the Liberal machine or the NDP machine, they can tie into a constituency office or phone lines that are provided by federal taxpayers,” he said.
“You’re campaigning against your own tax dollars. That’s part of why I don’t think party politics belongs at City Hall.”
Other Ward 20 candidates include Desmond Cole, Douglas Lowry, Chris Ouellette, Carmin Priolo, Devendra Sharma and Joseph Tuan.
Toronto Observer Tuesday, October 17, 2006 Section: News Byline: Philip Alves Link