Who's policing local elections? No one, it seems
Who's policing local elections? No one, it seems Daphne Bramham, Vancouver SunPublished: Saturday, November 15, 2008
Imagine if municipalities decided that police would no longer enforce speed limits and instead, it would be up to other drivers to finger the guy that zipped past them.
Ridiculous, right? Yet, that seems to be the position that B.C. municipalities and staff in the provincial Community Development Ministry take regarding the Local Government Act and its provisions dealing with groups that either act like civic parties or try to influence elections by endorsing and advertising on behalf of candidates.
The ministry says its job doesn't include enforcing the very legislation, which it is supposed to administer. It's up to the people, according to ministry staff. Individuals must enforce the Local Government Act -- a piece of legislation that runs to three volumes.http:///....nowpublic.com/local/North+Vancouver//Ministry staff's interpretation of the act lets chief electoral officers off the hook, which must be a relief to them. Most have full-time jobs as the municipal/city clerk and would be hard-pressed to blow the whistle on their bosses.
But what citizen is rich enough or crazy enough to try to investigate and prosecute election fraud?
It would take several years to get into court and, lawyers tell me, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $10,000 to $15,000. Even a successful resolution would result in a fine of only $5,000 -- which bizarrely would go to the provincial government like all other fines -- and the disqualification of the bad guys from running or voting in the next two elections.
But by then, they would have had two years on council and would likely have participated in decisions that are irreversible.
The minister, Blair Lekstrom, a former mayor of Dawson Creek, begs to differ with his staff.
"It's not the intent to have individuals take the time and money to take somebody to court," he says. "They would report to the police and it's up to them to investigate."
But when council candidate Michael Lewis went to West Vancouver police to lay a complaint about two quasi-parties that haven't registered, he was told to talk to the chief electoral officer.
Lekstrom says that's because nobody can complain to police until 120 days after the election. And that's because, he says, the only offence is to not file a financial statement.
But that's not what the act says. It says that it is an offence for any person or group who intends to augment or operate an election campaign to not register with the chief electoral officer. It's an offence to not appoint a financial agent as soon as possible after having spent or received $500 or more. And, it's an offence not to file a full financial report outlining all of the expenses and all donations over $50 within 120 days of the election.
What makes this all the more confusing is that the act provides specific powers to the minister in relation to elections. It says the minister "may make any order the minister considers appropriate to achieve the purposes of this part [of the act dealing with elections], including an order providing an exception to this act or a bylaw or regulation under this act."