05 October 2005

Is City Hall for sale?

The Montreal Gazette just finished a three-part story on problems in Montreal's municipal campaign financing.

Here's the editorial that concludes the series.

Here's the bit that started it all.

Anyone care to try looking at St. John's municipal campaign expenses and contributions by donors?

Good luck.

Under the provincial law, only winning candidates have to report any donations of cash over $100. Anything given "in-kind" is never reported - it doesn't have to be.

So... anyone with a private company or two can hide an unlimited amount of campaign work as an "in-kind" contribution. Need a few thousand signs? No problem, says the supporter. My company can supply them and my volunteers will put them up for you.

That's a possibility not that it actually happened. It may have happened and certainly you'll hear plenty of anecdotal information - some of it pure spec and rumour - about who did what for whom.

The problem is that residents of St. John's have no way of knowing what is being given and spent by whom and for whom in city politics.

If nothing else - at the very least - the whole lack of accountability creates a cloud of suspicion that doesn't improve the image of politics in local eyes.

In the worst case, city residents can be concerned that the millions of dollars in municipal contracts and the millions of dollars of development in the city might be had for a few bucks at election time.

Better that we fix the election expense laws and bring more information into the public domain rather than endure suspicion that ultimately erodes public confidence in the electoral system.