If HRM used federal rules, half of 2016 donations would be banned

Halifax council pension plan report request crushed

A Canadian expert in campaign fundraising ethics says Halifax should get ahead of the curve by adopting new rules on campaign financing.

"The overall trend is towards banning corporate contributions, banning union contributions and placing a cap on the amount that can be contributed," said Guy Giorno, chair of the committee that oversees lobbying and ethics for the Canadian Bar Association.

Halifax has no limitations on who can donate to a candidate, or how much they can give.

Capping federally and provincially

In provincial elections in Nova Scotia, only individual donations are allowed and they are capped at $5,000.

Federal campaigns are even stricter, capping individual donations at $1,550 — although candidates can give a maximum of $5,000 to themselves.

A CBC News analysis found that half of Halifax municipal donations came from individuals during the October 2016 municipal election. The rest came from corporations, unions, charities and the candidates. Candidates raised a total of $478,370.53.

If provincial fundraising rules were applied, that number would drop to $286,830.04

Under federal rules, only $267,720.59 of last year's funds would be eligible.

'I don't see it as a conflict'

Coun. Russell Walker raised $8,000 from developers in the last campaign, including donations from Armco Capital Inc. and Geosam Capital Inc., both owned by Halifax businessman George Armoyan.

He doesn't believe receiving donations from developers puts a politician in a conflict of interest.

"I don't see it as a conflict myself. And I'll vote for the way my residents want me to vote no matter who gives me money," Walker said.

"It's the same thing as if 100 people on the street, or 10 people on the street, each give me $100. Am I under those 10 people? I don't think so."

Conflict-of-interest discussions touchy

Giorno said conflict-of-interest discussions can be upsetting for public figures who feel their honesty is in question.

"Many people get confused and say, 'What are you saying? Are you accusing us of making bad decisions? Are you accusing us of letting benefits influence us?'" he said.

Giorno said that's not how conflict-of-interest law works.

"It works by saying we're all human beings and the system works best — and confidence in the system is maintained — if those conflicts are completely avoided," he said.

Upcoming condo vote

On Tuesday, Halifax council will vote on a proposed condo tower at the corner of Quinpool and Robie streets in Halifax.

The proposed Armco Tower would be 29 stories high, nearly three times the height permitted under current development rules.

Janet Stevenson is part of a community group that is opposed to the tower and she thinks councillors who received donations from Armco and related developers should recuse themselves.

"I think they should remove themselves from this discussion. And the vote. Because I believe there's an inherent conflict
of interest, yes," Stevenson said.

Donation tracking regimes

Halifax regional council has scheduled hearings in May to hear what donation rules the public would like to see.

Giorno said he supports the strict donation tracking regimes adopted in some American municipalities, where even individuals are banned from making contributions if they work for companies that do business with the city or need city approvals for major projects.

"I think there should be laws everywhere in Canada that provide for that. But in fairness to Haligonians, the laws that I think should exist there don't exist anywhere in Canada," he said.