Money Not Key to Sunshine Coast Election, Says Mayor

‘Change in direction’ the reason for win against heavily outspent opponent.

By Andrew MacLeod 9 Jan 2018 |

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

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Concerns about the future of the Sunshine Coast were the reason anti-development candidates lost in the recent civic election, says Gibsons Mayor Wayne Rowe.

New contribution limits for municipal elections are a positive step, but money wasn’t the determining factor in the 2014 vote in Gibsons, says Mayor Wayne Rowe.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing, that’s for sure,” Rowe said of the change that sets a $1,200 cap on donations from individuals to any one candidate or to candidates running as part of the same elector organization, or party. “It would probably help level playing fields, I suspect, in lots of communities.”

Bill 15, the Local Elections Campaign Financing Amendment Act, 2017, also banned all donations from outside of the province, as well as those from corporations and unions.

The Tyee reported last week that former Gibsons mayor Barry Janyk said the Sunshine Coast town had the highest spending per person of any community in the province during the 2014 municipal elections. Candidates and third parties spent more than $19 per person in the community, more than double what was spent in Vancouver.

Janyk said people had been willing to spend money to influence elections in Gibsons because they hope to benefit from development projects council can block or approve. “It’s all about money. That’s all it’s about. It’s made me really cynical about local politics in a community where there’s a development plum.”

Rowe agreed that the 2014 election was largely about how much development voters wanted to see, or not see, in the town.

“There were very significantly different views in our community in terms of what direction it should be going,” he said. “There were really a lot of people in our community who felt there was a real need for a change of direction... There was certainly a significant number of people who felt the community had not prospered very well under the previous administration.”

Candidates who opposed development plans lost in an election where voters were engaged and participation was among the highest in the province, he said. “The voters had a very clear choice before them.”

The official results show that 62.5 per cent of registered electors voted.

There’s no question, however, that Rowe had more money to spend than his sole opponent running for mayor.

According to Elections BC’s database, Rowe raised $26,917 from 35 donors, three quarters of it from corporations. His largest donation was $5,000 from an aluminum boat company.

Suzanne Senger, who received a little more than half as many votes as Rowe, raised $7,736 from 28 donors, about 90 per cent of it from individuals.

Rowe said he doesn’t plan to run in the 2018 election, adding it’s time for a new generation to lead in Gibsons. He did not, however, expect the next vote to be about development.

“I think the biggest issue regionally here is consistent and stable water supply,” he said. “The atmosphere is different now.”

More people have moved from Metro Vancouver to Gibsons, and they tend to accept that there’s a need to replace aging infrastructure, he said. They understand there’s a choice between raising taxes, borrowing money which will increase taxes later, or accepting development to increase the tax base.

Local elections, the first under the new rules, will be held in communities across B.C. on Oct. 20.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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