Pictou County councillor wants campaign expense rules reviewed

Pictou County councillor wants campaign expense rules reviewed

A councillor for the Municipality of Pictou County is calling for a review of municipal campaign donation rules for communities outside of Halifax.

"Now's the time for us to do the review for the rest of the province. Now's the time for us to get ready for the next set of elections in 2020," said Andy Thompson, who has represented District 11 for nearly a decade.

In May of last year, the provincial government opened the door for Halifax to review its campaign rules, with the possibility of banning certain types of donors, for example, or capping total donations from a single source.

Federal and Nova Scotia election rules allow only individual donations, which are capped at $1,550 and $5,000 respectively.

'Antiquated financing rules'

In Nova Scotia municipal elections, corporations, unions, and other groups are allowed to donate to candidates with no limits.

Thompson thinks there needs to be a similar discussion for the rest of the province.

"We have a 21st century election system with electronic voting. But we have antiquated financing rules," he said.

Thompson introduced a motion at Pictou County municipal council to send a letter to Municipal Affairs Minister Zach Churchill, asking for a review, and suggesting ways to make donations more transparent.

'Complicated issue'

One idea was to make municipal campaign donations eligible for tax receipts, to emphasize the requirement to report the source of all campaign money.

Churchill told CBC News that tax receipts in provincial and federal races are connected to the charitable status of official political parties.

"That's a much more complicated issue that I necessarily don't have the authority to change," he said.

Churchill says a requirement for all candidates to submit a list of their donors after the election is enough to insure a transparent system.

Post campaign reports online

Thompson believes that all municipalities should be required to post campaign reports online, because a trip to the town or county office is too onerous.

"They're not online. And I think that's another good point that it should be standardized right across the board," he said.

Churchill says Halifax was given the green light to review its campaign finance rules because of the volume of candidates and the amounts of money involved.

"They're in a very unique situation, the capital city where there's more dollars, where there's candidates," he said.

Watching Halifax

Churchill said the government will be watching developments in Halifax, where public consultation on new campaign rules will begin in May.

He says the government has no plans to allow a similar discussion in other municipalities.

"It's difficult to say there should be uniform rules on campaign financing from one end of the province to the other, because the situations are so different between Halifax and our rural communities," he said.