Think City Society asked all candidates running in Vancouver's municipal elections to complete their 2005 Vancouver Civic Election Survey.
Fifty-two candidates completed the survey. Kristin Foster of Think City reports that of the eleven questions sent to each candidate, "campaign spending limits received almost unanimous approval. Candidates surveyed also supported more stringent election finance disclosure, participatory city budgeting, and the abolition of the at-large system.
Candidates differed on other democratic reforms including mandating multilingual ballots, direct election of Greater Vancouver Regional Directors, and a return to door-to-door voter registration."
Some respondents chose to answer simply "yes" or "no" to the questions, but several gave written answers. What follows are excerpts from those written answers.
Question 1: Local political parties should disclose donor lists between elections.
"Yes: This is the bare minimum that a political party could do to be transparent." Ben West, Work Less Party candidate for Vancouver Mayor.
"Citizens should have whole story on where a party's funds come from." Fred Bass, current city councillor, and COPE candidate for Vancouver City Council.
"All election contributions should be open and transparent. How has COPE got away with breaking the law by not disclosing who financed the 2002 campaign?" Peter Ladner, current city councilor, NPA candidate for Vancouver City Council.
"Financial election reform is crucial and I think it should actually have been a priority before attempting to bring in wards." Jane Bouey, School Trustee, COPE candidate for Vancouver School Board.
"Yes! Transparency in who contributes to a campaign is essential for democracy to work. Without it, we have no idea if political favours are being returned for campaign contributions." Mel Lehan, COPE candidate for Vancouver Park Board.
Question 4: The at-large system should be replaced by another electoral system.
"Yes! The at-large system has many flaws. Chief among them being that the better-educated and wealthier citizens on the west side of the city have a voting pattern that is entirely too dominating for a democratic process to flourish. That is, they have a much higher turnout than the east side and therefore dominate who gets elected.
Secondly, the at large system doesn't take into account the concept of neighbourhoods. I believe that neighbourhooods are a crucial element in building community and reducing alienation, in producing local democracy, and in helping people to come up with wise and relevant solutions to local problems." Mel Lehan, COPE candidate for Vancouver Park Board
"Yes: At large as we have it is usually a tyranny of the largest minority, who often gain control of the city by outspending other electoral groups." Fred Bass, current city councillor, and COPE candidate for Vancouver City Council.
"Yes, but I don't know which one would be better. All wards is not my preference." Peter Ladner, current city councilor, NPA candidate for Vancouver City Council.
"Yes, at-large is extremely expensive to run. Perpetuates rule by financial elite." Jane Bouey, School Trustee, COPE candidate for Vancouver School Board.
"Yes. Though the Ward System was rejected in a referendum, the turn-out for that mid-term referendum was extraordinarily low. Essentially, about 11% of registered voters indicated they liked the at-large system. Though fewer yet voted for wards, I view the results as inconclusive." Kevin Potvin, independent candidate for Vancouver City Council.
"No: Vancouver is small enough to have an at-large system. Any type of ward system or riding system does not focus on the city as a whole." Michelle Jasmine Chang
"Yes: the at-large system is prehistoric and we need a more democratic system." Ben West, Work Less Party candidate for Vancouver Mayor.
Question 5: Donations to political parties should be subject to limits.
"Yes. Puts limits on ability to win election races simply by having the most money. Look at New York City. That could happen here. We have nothing to stop it." Jane Bouey, School Trustee, COPE candidate for Vancouver School Board.
"Yes. Prevents one group buying the election. Would be hard on parties that rely on large donations from single unions." Peter Ladner, current city councilor, NPA candidate for Vancouver City Council.
"Yes. A donation is a means of strongly indicating support. It should not be a means of buying influence in the democratic process. A certain amount indicates strong support; over that amount is an attempt to unduly influence the voting preference of others." Kevin Potvin, Independent candidate for Vancouver City Council
"Yes. So wealthy people cannot buy undue influence" Fred Bass, current city councillor, and COPE candidate for Vancouver City Council.
"Yes, it allows for smaller parties and independents." Michelle Jasmine Change
"Yes! This would stop the practice of allowing those with wealth of having too much influence over political parties. Unfortunately, (s)he who pays the piper often calls the tune. This is entirely inappropriate in a democracy and if you reduce the amounts that can be contributed you not only reduce the influence of the wealthy, but you make everyone else's donation more relevant. Mel Lehan, COPE candidate for Vancouver Park Board
Vanessa Richmond is the assistant editor of The Tyee.