Saskatoon election challengers call for campaign law reform

Jon Naylor, a candidate in Ward 6 in the city’s upcoming civic election, says Saskatoon campaign finance laws need to change.

Naylor said that the ability of corporations and unions to make donations to candidates “gives the perception that the vote might be bought and that favours might be done.”

Naylor and Ward 1 challenger Aron Cory both told Global News the fact that candidates can receive donations from entities that aren’t citizens hurts the democratic process and creates an unfair advantage for incumbents.

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“We don’t wind up with the same amount of resources as those (incumbent candidates) unless we are heavily financed by a corporation,” Cory said.

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A statement from the city communications manager confirmed there are no provincial regulations governing whether candidates can receive corporate or union donations.

In 2018 city council discussed the matter, following a recommendation to implement a ban that was recommended by the Saskatoon Municipal Review Commission (SMRC), a group of citizens charged with inquiring into and making commendations to the council about election issues.

In a report, the commission wrote it “believes that the City should consider following the trends to limit corporate and union donations that we are witnessing at both the federal and provincial levels across the country.”

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“In our review of the campaign contributions of all candidates for elected office we continue to see large sums of money donated to candidates, sometimes from single business or union contributors,” the report stated.

“In the spirit of opening the political process to any existing or new political candidates, we recommend that City Council work with its partners at the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association and request that the Province amend the Local Government Act to empower Municipal Councils to adopt bylaws that establish limits on contributions to candidates for municipal office.”

In a meeting of the Governance and Priorities Committee, on which all council members sit, on Tuesday, May 22, 2018, the council voted against banning donations from corporations and unions 6-5 and against lobbying the provincial government to ban corporate and union donations to municipal candidates by the same margin.

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The council members then voted through both decisions on the consent agenda at the following city council meeting.

Ward 1 incumbent Darren Hill voted against banning donations.

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“I just believe that any organization, whether they’re a private sector company, or an organized labour union, or any individual in the city of Saskatoon, should be able to support anybody that’s running in an election,” he said.

“Those are all people as well too, that comprise that labour union and that private sector corporation.”

He said such donations do not create an unfair advantage, that a campaign’s success depends on the candidate and their message and that anyone could raise money if they knocked on doors.

Hill, according to campaign disclosures publish on the City of Saskatoon website, accepted $6,469 in donations from unions and corporations for his 2016 campaign.

Ward 6 incumbent Cynthia Block, who was a challenger in 2016, accepted $3,420 for her campaign from corporations that year.

In an email response to an interview request she stated “(i)n the Council meeting, I made it very clear that I do not want corporate or union money involved in our election.

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“My vote reflected the absence of a viable replacement.”

She did not respond to additional interview requests and did not answer whether she has accepted corporate donations during the current campaign period.

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Former city councillor Tiffany Paulsen said there was no doubt incumbents benefit from corporate donations.

“It’s very rare in Saskatoon for an incumbent to lose a civic election race,” she said, speaking over Zoom.

“(The candidates) will immediately be attractive to a corporate or a union donor because (corporations and unions) know that person is likely to win.”

“There’s no such thing as a cheap campaign anymore, even at a civic level, so it does create some imbalance.”

She also said the amounts referenced aren’t enough to influence a councillor’s decision.

“If anyone thinks someone is able to purchase a vote for $3,500 or $6,500, to me that’s not an issue.”

Naylor said he is not accepting donations at all, that he is funding his own campaign and that it will cost him about $20,000.

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Cory said he had accepted only one corporation donation, worth about $1,000.

He also said he was planning to spend about $5,000 in total on his campaign.

The City of Saskatoon will publish all candidates’ campaign financial amendments after the election.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.