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Burlington Council Asks City Staff to Look Into Option for Modest Election Finance Rebate Program

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At our Council meeting on July 13, we directed our City Clerk to bring forward an option for a modest election finance rebate program by Q4 2021.

As well, we asked staff to seek feedback from our advisory committees on that option and use any other opportunities to engage the public. The option(s) could focus on smaller donations and aim for a modest cost to the city, similar to the programs in Whitby and Mississauga, and limit eligibility to Burlington residents only.

To learn more about what an election finance rebate program is, please head further down this post.

I am fully supportive of an election campaign rebate program because it incentivizes more people to participate. The idea of a super simple program with a lot of maximum caps on it is a good one as it advantages people who have less to spend on a campaign. We want to be able to have maximum participation in elections and this would help.

I want to thank the Mayor’s Millennial Advisory Committee for writing to committee and Council in support of implementing such a program.

Regarding signs, we need to take a hard look at what constitutes a sign and distinguish it from what constitutes an advertisement. We need to dispense with the maximum of one bumper sticker sign per vehicle.

Regarding encouraging candidates, particularly female candidates, Equalvoice.ca promotes women in politics and provides free courses and online resources. There is also a resource school you can enroll in for a fee that teaches you how to run a campaign that is run by an independent group.

Regarding use of corporate resources, we need to have a robust discussion at committee around this. Currently, no tax-payer office equipment or staff can be used in a municipal election, and while in theory this makes sense, in practice, it doesn’t. For example, if a City member lives in Burlington, they are discouraged from attending all-candidates debates — that’s an obstacle to their democratic right to learn more about the candidates they are expected to vote for. We have to find the right balance that allows people to participate in democracy AND draws a strict wall to disallow the use of City resources.

Regarding incumbents and new candidates, we need to work towards creating as fair and equitable a playing field as possible. The onus is on us to show why any restrictions to candidates currently in place are justified — and frankly, there are many that just aren’t.

WHAT IS AN ELECTION FINANCE REBATE PROGRAM?

The Municipal Elections Act, 1996 allows, but does not mandate, municipalities to pass a bylaw to provide rebates to indivduals who contributed to a Council candidate’s election campaign.

Rebates are funded through the general revenues of a municipality, in other words rebates would be a tax supported expense. Municipal campaign contributions are not eligible for income tax rebates, like contributions to Provincial or Federal candidates. The principle purpose of the program is to encourage participation in municipal elections by reducing the financial burden placed on candidates and campaign donors. A rebate
program requires candidates to issue receipts to donors who would then apply for a rebate from the City.

Rebates would only be processed after the election, and after a candidate files their financial statements in compliance with the Act. Participation in the contribution rebate program by candidates is voluntary. A contribution rebate program enables a municipality to reimburse contributions made by individuals to a campaign of a candidate seeking election for Mayor or Councillor.

A number of municipalities have implemented a contribution rebate program including the Cities of Ottawa, Toronto, Mississauga, Markham, Vaughan, Whitby, Ajax and Oakville. The criteria for eligibility and rebate formulas vary between municipalities. Likewise, the rebate payout amounts will vary greatly.

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Marianne Meed Ward

Marianne Meed Ward

I was inspired to seek public office because I believe, like so many of you, “I can do something about that” on the issues we face. As councilor, my role is to take a stand on what’s best for residents and go to bat for it. Pushback is inevitable from those who don’t have the community’s interests at heart. I will stand with you and for you, to achieve the best interests of our city, without caving to unacceptable compromise in the name of consensus.

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