Better elections: More information about candidates and who funds them

There is so much that needs to be reformed at City Hall, but the very basis of our democracy, the electoral system, should be put near the top of the list.

We’ve heard from many people about the challenge of choosing among 39 candidates, including 10 for mayor. The mechanics of the system should make this an easier task, not more difficult.

We knew who Lisa Helps and Stephen Hammond were as the campaign began–the city’s mayor and “the Mad as Hell guy,” respectively.

But we had no idea who some of the other mayoral and councillor candidates were, who was supporting them and what their agendas were. So more and better information about candidates is essential.

Here are some fixes the City and BC government should consider:

– Where the money comes from: campaign donations should be released to the public during the campaign, as they are made, giving the voters a good idea of who is bankrolling the candidates.

As it is, election spending reports are released months later, which seems after the fact. Elections BC pores over the figures for irregularities and candidates can be charged with campaign abuses, but that can be months or years after the damage was done.

– Information provided by candidates when they file for nomination should be more comprehensive, like details supplied by people applying for a job, because that’s what they’re doing: character references, work history, education, even a statement about the position and how they perceive it.

– Candidates should be required to use their real names, rather than colorful pseudonyms–would you hire a waiter or a legal assistant if you didn’t know his or her real name?

– It seems strange that the City is unable to supply an unambiguous list of where candidates live, specifying the municipalities, especially since candidates are required by law to supply this information.

– At the neighbourhood level, some organizers of candidates’ forums cut down the long lists to invite only the leading candidates. Some of the fringe candidates, seemingly running for a narrow cause of interest only to themselves, complained this process was unfair; certainly not to the people trying to decide among candidates who were actually in the race.

– And finally, if the BC government changes the first past the post electoral system, perhaps they should consider doing the same at the municipal level. In London, Ont., for example, voters select their city council using the ranked ballot voting system.