Labour pulls strings in BC's civic election campaigns

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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The civic unions in BC were the real winners in the last civic election

With all the financial declarations from the 2008 civic election campaigns for BC now in, we thought it might be interesting to analyze one city to see what role the labour movement played in the electoral success of its endorsed candidates. We have chosen to focus on New Westminster.

Firstly, if you want to find out if your local civic politician or political party in BC was officially endorsed by the labour movement, you can now take a look at a master list of the lucky candidates. Thanks to new provincial legislation, "campaign organizers" (sometimes also known as the labour movement) are now legally bound to file a legal disclosure if they helped to elect your local politicians.

The disclosure is a big leap forward in support of openness and transparency, however, it still lacks a LOT of detail. Take for example the Canadian Labour Congress which apparently donated $153,762.52 to help elect labour-friendly candidates throughout BC. If you go looking, you can find something called Schedule A which provides a high-level overview of how this money was spent. Unfortunately, what Schedule A doesn't tell you is exactly where in the province that money was spent.

For example, we know the CLC spent $63,005.28 on postage and courier services. However, you don't know if this money was distributed equally amongst all their "endorsed candidates" or whether some of it was weighted in communities where candidates had a better chance of winning. This is very important information to know if you want to determine if the CLC money had any impact on a particular local campaign.

In New Westminster, four councillors elected last November were declared as "endorsed candidates" by the Canadian Labour Congress, however we could not determine if any of them received direct contributions from the CLC. Therefore, one is left wondering if any of the $153,762.52 went to help elect any of the New Westminster councillors? One presumes not.

The four Big Labour-endorsed candidates in New Westminster all won a spot on council in the last election. They include Councillors Bill Harper, Jaimie McEvoy, Jonathon Cote and Lorrie Williams.

CityCaucus.com did a quick analysis of their contributions in order to determine the following:

  1. How much did labour contribute as a percentage of their overall campaign contributors?
  2. How much did the candidate contribute to their own campaign as an overall percentage?

In terms of how much labour provided compared to all other contributors, we excluded the amount each of the candidates put into their own campaign. We then reviewed all the remaining contributions and determined that the labour movement played a big role in helping to finance four local candidates.

Jonathon Cote raised $9,704.91 from external sources. The labour movement comprised 41% of his donations. Cote contributed $930.47 toward his successful campaign. At $1,800 dollars, his largest labour donor was CUPE, the city employee's union.

Bill Harper gets a gold medal for his $6262.91 contribution from the labour unions to fund his campaign. In terms of actual dollar amount, it was the largest contribution to any of the four candidates. These donations formed 65% of his total campaign contributions. Harper contributed a paltry $579.72 toward his own campaign.

Jaimie McEvoy received a total of $3,312 in campaign contributions from the unions. This translated into a 56% of his total campaign donations. Jaimie also gets a gold medal for contributing $9,345.94 of his own money to fund his campaign

Veteran Councillor Lorrie Williams came in second in the labour donation sweepstakes having obtained 60% of her contributions from the labour unions. Williams also contributed $5,000 toward her own campaign. CUPE contributed all but $400 of the $3,262.91 she received from the labour unions. Note that we assume the "Stratcom" donation of $312.91 was a labour donation, although it was not categorized as such. However, all the other "endorsed" candidates also received a donation in the amount of $312.91 from the New Westminster and District Labour Council. 

We should note that CUPE Local 409 also submitted a financial disclosure which indicates they contributed $8,150 to help elect their endorsed candidates in New Westminster.

There are obviously dozens of communities in which we could have provided for you this analysis, but unfortunately, this takes a lot of time and money which we sadly lack. However, we do plan to focus on a few other communities over the months to come.

Overall, the big concern from my perspective is how some of the big unions are able to play such a crucial role in local campaigns without ever having to declare how they actually supported local candidates. It is clear the unions were also struggling with the reporting as they outline some of their rationale for financial reporting in a cover memo which states:

Our organization, working with a number of our affiliates attempted throughout the spring to get clarity from the provincial government regarding the treatment of the multiple jurisdiction campaigns that we historically run.

The Canadian Labour Congress goes on to quote a section of the official Campaign Organizer Guide which states:

The financial agent may produce a single report for the overall election campaign, including activities in each of the jurisdictions where candidates were endorsed.

Unfortunately, despite spending over $150,000 on the "campaign," the CLC disclosure does not allow the public to determine what percentage of that money was spent to help elect any particular candidate. Rather, it merely has global dollar amounts for a list of candidates it says it endorsed. Are we to assume it is split equally among all the "endorsed candidates"? If so, why did the New Westminster candidates not clearly indicate this amount on their financial disclosures? Perhaps one of our readers has a simple answer to this question?

This is what CUPE wrote to the Chief Electoral Officers in each municipality they campaigned in:

It is a requirement of the candidates to report any donations that they received from our union and not CUPE BC's. As such they are not included in this report.

The issue of who finances civic campaigns is something that we will continue to analyze over the months to come in our popular Know Your Donor series of posts. If you have any answers to the questions we've posed today, feel free to write a comment, or drop us a line. You can also check out our new online poll on this subject.

2 Comments

For what it's worth, I have graphed out this data for the City of North Vancouver. See http://jjensen.ca/index.php/2009/08/city-of-north-vancouver-2008-campaign-financing

John, this is great. We actually spotted your post a couple weeks back and intended to reference it in a later post. Thanks for the reminder!

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