Municipal staff are recommending an increase to contribution and spending limits, but councillors aren’t comfortable with the amount candidates and their spouses are allowed to donate to their own campaigns.

In a report to council’s Executive Standing Committee’s Monday meeting, elections and special projects manager Liam MacSween recommended an inflation-based increase to campaign contribution limits.

Council adopted its campaign finance bylaw in 2018. The bylaw banned donations from companies and unions, and set limits on donations and spending. Since 2018, according to the Bank of Canada, inflation is 17.72%.

MacSween recommended increasing the maximum contribution for mayoral candidates from $2,500 to $3,000. The maximum donation to a campaign for council would increase from $1,000 to $1,200.

The most any one person can donate to all candidates would move up to $5,900 from $5,000. And the most a candidate can donate to their own campaign, combined with their spouse, would increase from $15,000 to $17,700.

The bylaw also sets limits on how much candidates can spend. For a mayoral candidate, MacSween recommended an increase from $300,000 to $353,200. For a council candidate, the figure would rise from $30,000 to $35,300.

New bylaw amendments would also ban donations from anyone “who is not ordinary resident in the Province of Nova Scotia for a period of six months immediately preceding the first advance polling day.”

Little support for bylaw’s use of ‘spouse’

First, unrelated to the new limits, Coun. Paul Russell took issue with some of the wording in the bylaw. He noted that an “individual” is defined as a person, excluding “a Spouse,” “a Corporation,” “a Partnership,” “an Association,” “a person who is not ordinary resident in the Province of Nova Scotia for a period of six months immediately preceding the first advance polling day;” “a Non-Profit Organization;” and “a Trade Union.”

Russell argued that definition means any “spouse” is unable to donate to any campaign, and moved to amend the bylaw. That motion evolved into a deferral.

Coun. Patty Cuttell had a different issue with the inclusion of spouses in the bylaw.

“As a councillor who doesn’t have a spouse, I find this whole discussion about spouses to be rather interesting, complex, and biased,” Cuttell said.

Cuttell argued that people without spouses should be permitted to have some other family member donate more than the limit to their campaign. She proposed to tack that onto Russell’s motion of deferral.

“I think that allowing spouses’ contributions, but not recognizing other forms of family and family configurations actually creates, potentially, an impediment to those of us that are spouseless,” Cuttell said.

Mayor argues against self-financing campaigns

Mayor Mike Savage said he doesn’t think people should be able to self-finance their campaigns to the extent they can, with or without their spouse.

“I don’t like the fact that a mayoral candidate, or I guess a council candidate, can contribute $15,000 to their own campaign,” Savage said.

“That just means people who have money can finance their own campaigns and that takes away the point of this in my view.”

Coun. Waye Mason agreed, and proposed adding to the direction around the deferral to have staff look at reducing the amount people can spend on their spouses’ campaigns.

“All of what we’ve tried to do with campaign financing and all the other changes that have happened around paternity and maternity leave and all the supportive pieces is to make it so that it’s not just retired wealthy people who have money who can run for office successfully and stay in office successfully,” Mason said.

The committee voted to defer the item to a future meeting pending a new report with information on reducing the maximum contribution of a spouse to match the maximum total contribution; striking “spouse” from the definition of an individual; and reviewing the use of the word “spouse” throughout the bylaw “for the perspective of reducing barriers/promoting equity.”

Coun. David Hendsbee proposed to round the new contribution limits up to make the numbers more even. He made no motion to that effect.

The 2020 municipal election was the first under the campaign bylaw. As the Halifax Examiner reported in 2021, compliance was lacking but staff reported it was fine.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

Leave a comment

Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.