Runaway Transit Referendum Spending Shows Need for Expense Limits

The Vancouver Sun reports today that the Mayor’s Council spent $5.8 million dollars on promoting a Yes vote during the recent Metro Vancouver Transit Referendum:

The Sun also reported that the organization supporting the “no” side said that it spent $40,000 on its campaign.

There were no limits on how much money groups could spend on their referendum campaigns, and no transparency or reporting requirements.

The sheer size of the amount spent by the Mayor’s council and the disparity between how much was spent by the “yes” and “no” sides demonstrate quite clearly that the failure to enforce expense limits and reporting requirements was an oversight. Whatever the result, the huge disparities in money spent by the two campaigns casts doubt on the fairness of the referendum.

It is difficult to believe that the Mayor’s Council spent that much on the campaign. For the sake of comparison, in a British Columbia general election campaign, political parties are faced with an election expenses limit of $4.4 million. This seems like a huge sum but it is still $1.4 million less than what the Mayor’s Council spent on a single issue referendum in one region of the province.

Expense limits and financial reporting requirements must be seen as a necessary and beneficial part of electoral events, including referenda. The transit referendum experience showed what can happen without these requirements, and why these requirements should apply to any future referendum.

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