Here's how much candidates raised for the 2020 Halifax municipal election

·5 min read

More details are available about the money raised and spent during Halifax's municipal election last October.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, who was re-elected, raised the most out of all candidates at $104,635, according to his campaign contribution statements. His opponents, Matt Whitman and Max Taylor, raised $19,030 and $8,599, respectively.

The amount raised by council candidates ranged from $1,100 to $20,000.

The 2020 election looked different from previous years — both due to COVID-19, and due to new rules about where campaign donations could come from.

Candidates can no longer accept money from corporations or unions. There's also a maximum amount for individual donations — $1,000 for council candidates and $2,500 to mayoral candidates — and a $15,000 limit on how much candidates and their spouses can give to their own campaigns.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

As well, campaign spending was limited to $30,000 for council candidates and $300,000 for mayoral candidates.

Expenses also have to be listed, and if there are surpluses, they can either be donated to charities or held for the next election.

Source: HRM
Source: HRM

Nearly $10,000 of the money raised for Savage's campaign went unspent. He said he will split the remaining surplus between Feed Nova Scotia and Shelter Nova Scotia.

"I didn't see the need to leave the money there [for a future election.] If I run again, I'll go out and raise more money," Savage said.

He said the new rules around campaign financing are a "really good step," though he believes the city should review how the election went to see if "there's more that we can do to bring accountability."

Coun. Sam Austin, who was re-elected for Dartmouth Centre, raised $15,369.40. After the costs of the campaign, he was left with a surplus of about $1,000.

While it's "far too early" to say if he will run again, Austin said the surplus will be donated to charity if he doesn't.

"Basically, I've just kept my options open for it," he said.

Spryfield-Sambro Loop-Prospect Road Coun. Patty Cuttell is the only other council candidate to hang onto their surplus for a future election, though a part of it will be donated to charity.

Austin said the new rules tightened up the system for reporting contributions and expenses. Previously, he said there were "basically no rules."

"The only rule was you had to disclose any donations over $50, and that was it. You didn't have to disclose what money you might have put in yourself, or what you might have taken in that was worth less than $50, or what you spent that money on," he said.

Austin said there is still room for improvement, though. He suggested it's time to look at how we fund elections.

David Laughlin/CBC
David Laughlin/CBC

"Money is an important thing in politics, and the system is biased, certain types of candidates are able to raise money, others are not," he said.

"I think we're going to need to think about that access piece, because if you can't raise money, then it's hard to run a campaign and you might actually constrain the options that are then available for people, in terms of people that are offering to represent the community."

While there are new rules in place, The Halifax Examiner reported on Thursday that three council candidates broke them.

The publication said David Hendsbee, who successfully ran for re-election in Preston-Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore, reported in his financial statement that he had received $500 from a company. The document was later changed and the name of the company was changed to that of an individual.

The Examiner also said Steve Streach, who lost his bid for re-election in Waverley-Fall River-Musquodoboit Valley, received a donation from a company, but Streach told the publication he believed all or part of it was from the company's owner.

As well, Nicole Johnson, who unsuccessfully ran in the same district, received a donation of $1,200, more than the allowable amount from individuals.

The municipality told The Halifax Examiner it was "reviewing the process with these individuals as set out in the by-law."

Campaigning during COVID

Becky Kent, who successfully ran for District 3, raised $20,561.96 for her campaign, the most money raised by a council candidate. All of it was spent, with much of the money going toward printing and advertising costs.

"It did add up probably faster than I anticipated, but we had a unique campaign," said Kent. "We had a campaign where it was very hard to get engaged with constituents because you could not go door to door until it was very much the last minute."

Kent last ran for — and won — a seat for council in 2004, which she said was "very, very different."

She said going door to door is one of her favourite parts of campaigning, so they had to substitute that with campaigning through social media and mail-outs.

"It really was one for the books," Kent said of the election. "I'm glad it's over."

Brian MacKay/CBC
Brian MacKay/CBC

On the other side of the coin, re-elected Middle/Upper Sackville-Beaver Bank-Lucasville Coun. Lisa Blackburn raised the least amount of money — $1,165, about half of what she raised during the 2016 election.

Blackburn said her campaign managed to cut costs by doing most of its advertising through social media and reusing signs from the last election.

While she did receive some union donations in 2016, Blackburn said she was a fan of the new rules.

"I think it's a great step towards transparency. I'm quite pleased with how it all rolled out this time around," she said.

Where to view the contribution statements

But Blackburn added the "ink hasn't really dried yet" for the election, and it's too soon to say what they might do the same, or differently, in future elections.

"A lot of the decisions made ... were made because of COVID, so I'd like to see what the next election cycle looks like before saying it worked or it didn't work," she said.

"But for me, at this stage, I'd say it worked very well."

People can view the campaign contribution statements on Halifax's website.

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