Giving corporations a vote?
It may be that there was a big press announcement last fall about Premier Gordon Campbell’s having appointed a joint Task Force to make recommendations for legislative changes to “improve the electoral process for local government elections across B.C.”; if so, we missed it. Thankfully, a recent CBC radio interview of Bill Bennett, Minister of Community and Rural Development, brought it to my attention. We believe this should be of interest to anyone concerned about who is involved in local decision-making.
Bill Bennett co-chairs the six-member Task Force with Harry Nyce, president of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) and includes two other UBCM executive members and two provincial MLAs.
Topics under review by the Task Force are:
- Campaign finance, including contribution/spending disclosure and limits, and tax credits
- Enforcement processes and outcomes
- Role of the chief electoral officer (B.C.) in local government elections
- Election cycle (term of office)
- Corporate vote
- Other agreed upon matters, (e.g. matters raised in UBCM resolutions such as eligibility of local government volunteers to be candidates)
The issue that particularly concerns us is the “corporate vote”. This refers to the proposal that companies located in a B.C. municipality have the right to vote in that municipality’s local election.
Prior to 1973, participation in local democracy in BC was generally more closely linked with property ownership and the payment of property taxes. E.g., people who owned homes had the vote; those who merely rented suites did not. And in many B.C. municipalities—although never in the City of Vancouver—corporations (including foreign-owned corporations) could vote in local elections. And there were an unrestricted number of votes – an individual could vote in relation to his or her residence and (via an agent) in relation to as many corporations as he or she owned, thus garnering more than one vote within a single municipality.
Various changes were made in 1973, 1976 and again, in 1993, when the corporate vote was discontinued.
Since the removal of the corporate vote, some business advocacy organizations have called for its restoration. For example, the BC Chamber of Commerce regularly recommends reinstatement of the corporate vote in its annual resolutions book.
The argument given is that, since companies pay significant amounts of property taxes to the municipality, they should have the right to vote, that local elected officials should be accountable to business taxpayers through the electoral system. We would argue that paying these taxes is simply one of the costs of doing business—and that the costs are passed along to the consumer, in any case.
More details, both for and against a corporate vote can be found in a discussion paper on this and the other topics under review, on the Task Force website.
The Task Force will accept written comments submitted by April15, 2010.
The Task Force website is at http://www.localelectionstaskforce.gov.bc.ca/