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Cabinet minister blames Elections BC for delay on local election changes

The cabinet minister responsible for local government is blaming Elections British Columbia and the recall initiative for the failure to make changes to the running of municipal elections.

But an EBC official said the agency had no qualms about the timing and was ready to do its part.

The government had hoped to make the changes the Local Government Elections Task Force recommended in May, 2010, in time for the November, 2011, election, Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Ida Chong said during debate of her ministry's budget.

The 31 proposed changes included things like setting expense limits, requiring third party advertisers to register and banning anonymous donations. Fifteen of the changes required amendments to provincial laws.

"Because they were going to have a greater role, we were advised that Elections B.C. was just not able to accommodate looking at legislative changes," Chong said responding to a question from NDP arts and culture critic Spencer Chandra Herbert March 1, according to the Hansard.

"They were in the midst of something that we call 'recall' a little while ago," she said. "They advised, as I said, that their time had been consumed by that, and they could not entertain looking at new legislation that they would be involved in."

Therefore the government held off, she said. "As a consequence — I know it was a disappointment to many — we were not able to bring those changes in."

"I don't recall that we had any qualms about the timing," said Nola Western, EBC's assistant chief electoral officer. "We were certainly planning for doing it in the 2011 election."

Asked what stopped the legislation from coming forward, she said, "It didn't happen from our end."

Told of Chong's comments, Western said it's possible Craig James, who acted as chief electoral officer last year, said something about the timing to the government, but it's the first she's heard of it. James, who is now clerk of the legislature, did not immediately respond to an email.

Nor did a spokesperson for Chong's ministry respond to a phone message by publication time.

"The government set up the process to come up with the changes," said the NDP's Chandra Herbert. "If they wanted the changes to be made they should have done it in a timely way . . . The problem was the government left things so late."

The Tyee reported in March, 2010, that in the ten months after the task force released it's report, the legislature sat just eight days. During that time Premier Gordon Campbell resigned and Christy Clark won a leadership contest to replace him.

Bill Bennett, who as a cabinet minister had co-chaired the task force on local elections but was then sitting as an independent MLA, observed, "Everything seems to be on hold within government for the last few months."

When the government announced in April, 2010, that the changes wouldn't be in place until the 2014 elections, the press release didn't mention EBC, but said that with campaigns already underway it was too late to change the rules.

Update, 9:30 a.m. March 6, 2012: Craig James writes: "I don't recall advising the government on any aspect of the Local Government Elections Act." It was Nola Western's file and she would be able to explain the interaction between Elections B.C. and the government on the bill, he said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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