No end in sight for municipal election spending secrecy in New Brunswick

·3 min read

The New Brunswick government isn't committing to end the secrecy around who funds municipal election campaigns.

There are no limits on how much municipal election candidates can spend on their campaigns nor any requirement they disclose who donates funds.

In 2017, the Liberal government pledged to end a free-for-all in campaigns and passed legislation to do so, though regulations to implement the rules weren't put in place before the Progressive Conservatives took power in 2018.

The work "died with the change in government," according to a February 2019 email obtained by CBC News through a right to information request. CBC asked the province Oct. 28 whether it would implement rules, though only received a response Nov. 19.

"Working to address municipal campaign financing is something that the government will consider," Anne Mooers, a spokesperson for the Department of Local Government and Local Governance Reform, said in an emailed statement.

"Any possible new rules or changes to financial disclosure for municipal campaigns would only apply after the May 2021 municipal elections."

Government of New Brunswick
Government of New Brunswick

Daniel Allain, the minister of the department, did not provide an interview.

Candidates in federal and provincial elections are required to obey detailed rules around reporting and disclosing contributions and spending.

Margot Cragg, executive director of the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick, said the rules can't be copied from those in place for provincial and federal campaigns.

Can't be a barrier for candidates

Cragg said, unlike provincial or federal campaigns where candidates have party support to comply with financing rules, each of the more than 1,000 municipal candidates is running independently.

"Having rules around campaign financing are great," Cragg said. "We also need to get it right so that it doesn't become a barrier."

Adam Lordon, Miramichi's mayor, said he personally wants the rules put in place as a way to add fairness but recognizes there's likely not enough time to make it happen for the 2021 vote.

Shane Magee/CBC
Shane Magee/CBC

Pierre Boudreau, a Moncton city councillor, says he's been lobbying for disclosure rules for years and said he's heard for years that rules will be considered.

"The provincial government's reluctance to implement this much needed legislation is irresponsible and constitutes a flagrant disregard for accountability and transparency in municipal governments in the province," Boudreau said.

Boudreau said he has returned contributions when he's run and has tried to keep his own spending as low as possible.

I find it deplorable that they're just considering it. - Green Party MLA Kevin Arseneau

Opposition parties say they also don't understand the hesitation.

"I find it deplorable that they're just considering it," Green Party MLA Kevin Arseneau said."It has to be done."

Arseneau said if the province is concerned about the effect on races in smaller communities, rules could start as a pilot in the province's eight cities.

When Kris Austin, leader of the People's Alliance previously ran for municipal office, nothing was required around campaign spending.

"It just seems to be a free-for-all," Austin said. He called rules on campaign spending long overdue.

Liberal MLA Keith Chiasson, the party's local government critic, said with local governance reforms planned by the PCs that could expand areas that have municipal government, rules around campaigns could become more important.

"Now is the time to get it done," Chiasson said.