Who do you owe, and how do you pay? These are the questions voters in five Simcoe County municipalities should be asking their candidates as local elections approach in October.
A report released this week concludes developers gave 43% of all contributions to successful councillors in Barrie, Bradford-West Gwillimbury, Collingwood, Innisfil and New Tecumseth during the 2006 municipal election.
Money & Politics in Simcoe County: Shining a Light on Municipal Election Financingwas prepared by Campaign Lake Simcoe.
It says developers’ campaign money fills local councils with urban sprawl — or residential subdivision — supporters. Since pro-environment candidates don’t get developers’ money, it’s much tougher for them to be elected.
Campaign Lake Simcoe wants Ontario’s government, the parent of municipalities, to ban corporate and union contributions to local elections. And because 58% of these contributions came from outside the municipalities of the candidate, it also wants contributors to be qualified voters in the municipality where their supported candidate is running for office.
Fair enough, although such restrictions don’t seem to be on the province’s radar, and it’s too late to have a ban in place for this year’s election anyway.
Municipalities could have done it themselves, of course. Toronto did it. So did Quebec and Manitoba for provincial elections. The feds have done it.
The question is what to do about it for the Oct. 25 election. The best answer is that candidates should police themselves on this matter.
This doesn’t mean they cannot accept campaign contributions from developers. Election campaigns can be expensive, especially for those running for mayor.
But the onus is on candidates to know the interests of developers, or corporations or unions or any other person or organization interested in contributing to a political campaign.
Does the developer own land which needs rezoning or site plan or plan of subdivision approval? Would that approval be required during the term of the next council?
How do residents feel about any such developments? How has the current council and municipal staff dealt with the applications?
These questions should not imply that every developer wants to corrupt the business of local councils or that every councillor can be bought.
On the other hand, there’s rarely giving done in politics and business without the expectation of receiving something in return.
Developer contributions to Simcoe County candidates have to be particularly scrutinized. This area will see tremendous population growth during the next 20 years, and these people will need homes, and developers to be involved in the planning and building process.
Not to mention political approval to proceed. The next councils in Barrie, Bradford-West
Gwillimbury, Collingwood, Innisfil and New Tecumseth need to look at restricting campaign contributions for the 2014 municipal elections.
This doesn’t necessarily mean a ban on developer or corporate or union money, but it does mean looking at the issue and considering solutions.
Because in politics, reality often mirrors perception.
And politicians accepting contributions from developers looks shady.