Elections BC has released the annual reports for local political parties (elector organizations), which gives us a sense of how ready each party is for the upcoming election.
This is the first year we’re able to have this level of insight into local political funding, which is on par with the reporting requirements for provincial political parties.
Frances Bula has a great piece in The Globe and Mail looking at the state of each of the registered parties in the City of Vancouver, but let’s dig a bit more into the numbers.
The following chart summarizes the financial details from each party’s balance sheet and statement of income and expenses on their annual returns.
|A Better City Vancouver
|Forward Together with Kennedy Stewart
|TEAM for a Livable Vancouver
There’s far more we can look at from the financial sheets but these columns give us a good sense of the position of each of the parties. The accumulated surplus is their net assets minus their liabilities, in other words its how much money they were sitting on as of December 31, 2021. More money means more staff, ads and ability to fight the election. The total revenue tells us a bit about how strong their fundraising is and total expenses tells us how tight of a ship they’re running.
Ken Sim’s A Better City Vancouver and OneCity Vancouver are both sitting on over $125,000, COPE has $35,000, Colleen Hardwick’s TEAM has $30,000, and Kennedy Stewart’s Forward Together and the Greens each have about $16,000.
Despite COPE’s relatively strong financial position (the third most assets), they actually ran a deficit in 2021. Meanwhile, A Better City Vancouver and Team Kennedy Stewart have by far the strongest fundraising operations – and there’s an order of magnitude difference between them.
Vision Vancouver, the NPA and Progress Vancouver don’t seem to have filed annual reports. Progress launched in late October 2021 from the ashes of Yes Vancouver. Vision and the NPA have also both been around for years (the NPA is potentially the oldest continuous political party in Canada after the federal Liberals). It’s unclear why these three parties seemingly flouted the rules. VOTE Socialist also didn’t file, but they only formed in the past couple weeks.
According to the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act, annual reports were due by March 31. A party can file up to 30 days late but is subject to a $500 fine. We’ll be following up with Elections BC to learn why a party may not have filed and what consequences they may face if they don’t file.
Breadth of support matters as much as depth of pockets
While the top-line fundraising numbers tell one story, it’s just as important to look at how many donors each party has, as a small number of wealthy donors might not mean as much on election day when they each only get one vote.
For 2021, an individual could give up to $1,239.18 to an elector organization per campaign. So if a party is running candidates for city council and school board, you could donate up to $2478.36 to that party (half to the council race and half to the school board).
Presumably a party could also raise funds for its Park Board nominees but no elector organization seems to have raised funds for those races in 2021. (We’ve confirmed that parties pay for their park board campaigns out of their council funds). The only party that didn’t raise funds for school board in 2021 was Forward Together.
In their annual reports, each party has to provide the number of donors who gave under $100, the total value of those contributions, the total value of contributions from donors who gave over $100 and the names (and donation amounts) for every donor who gave over $100.
For this table, we’ve combined the donors to council and school board (this may double count some of the small donors). The number of donors who gave more than $100 was calculated from a list of 2021 campaign contributions for council and school board races downloaded from elections BC’s website (it does not double count donors).
|Number of donors who gave under $100
|Value of contributions of less than $100
|Number of donors who gave $100 or more
|Value of contributions of $100 or more
|A Better City
In terms of large donors, A Better City was well ahead of its competitors both in terms of number of donors and amount of donations. While OneCity had a respectable number of large donors, they were dwarfed in contributions from those donors by A Better City, Forward Together Team and even the Greens, who had about a quarter as many donors. This means those other parties received far more maxed out donations whereas OneCity had an average donation of about $300 (among those who gave more than $100).
Despite their candidates’ strong performance in 2018, the Greens had a mere 44 small donors – just 28 for their council campaign – though their fundraising was partially saved by the larger donors (albeit only 26 of them). Similarly, Colleen Hardwick’s revitalized TEAM posted most of its fundraising through a smaller number of larger donors.
And true to form, COPE raised a respectable amount from smaller donors (all 244 gave to their council campaign) but they lagged behind everyone else in larger contributions. Even their larger donors only gave an average of $164.
These new disclosure rules came into effect on December 1, 2021 and include requirements for elector organizations to register with Elections BC, disclose campaign contributions and file annual reports. The rules set out that elector organizations must “disclose all campaign contributions not previously reported” and elector organizations are “no longer permitted to accept contributions to their non-campaign accounts.” We’ll be following up with Elections BC to clarify whether these rules mean every contribution in 2021 should have been reported as the database of campaign contributions doesn’t show any party receiving funds prior to October 2021 and most don’t start posting until November or December. Presumably those parties that existed prior to the fall (COPE, OneCity and the Greens) received contributions in the first ten months of the year.
Are elected officials supporting their elector organizations?
Political parties are required to disclose the names of anyone who gives more than $100 to the party, so there’s lots we can learn about the type of support each party has garnered from the wealthiest Vancouverites.
For now we’re going to focus our attention on those who were elected under a party banner and what they’re doing to support that party’s re-election bid.
Mayor of Vancouver, Kennedy Stewart earned $178,473 in 2021 and city councillors took home between $89,886 and $103,216, depending on their specific responsibilities (Jean Swanson earned the least and Sarah Kirby-Yung the most). Despite these salaries, which are at and above the median household income for the City of Vancouver, only three members of council donated to their parties in 2021.
Adriane Carr gave $1339.18 to the Greens (the max to the school board campaign and $100 to council), Jean Swanson gave $1243 to COPE’s school board campaign and Christine Boyle gave $100 to OneCity’s council campaign.
Councillors Rebecca Bligh, Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung sat as independents in 2021 (Bligh left the NPA in late 2020 and the other two left in April 2021). The NPA didn’t file a return so we don’t know if Melissa de Genova donated to her party.
Colleen Hardwick did not donate to TEAM for a Livable Vancouver, which launched in September 2021 and Kennedy Stewart didn’t give to his vehicle either. Nor did Greens Michael Wiebe and Pete Fry opt to support their party’s re-election bid.
School Board trustees took home around $32-34,000 in 2021, so we might reasonably expect fewer donations from those officials. COPE’s Barb Parrott gave her party’s council campaign $200. The only other person that we know donated was former NPA Trustee Oliver Hanson who donated $500 to A Better City’s council campaign. The three NPA trustees left their party shortly after their councilmates in April, though none have formally declared for A Better City.
Greens Stuart Mackinnon, Estrellita Gonzalenz and Lois Chan-Pedley and OneCity’s Jennifer Reddy seemingly didn’t donate to their parties.
Park Board Commissioners are the lowest paid elected officials in Vancouver, receiving $18,743 per year or $23,428 as chair (for 2022). The only Commissioner who donated to a party was John Irwin who gave $190 to COPE’s council campaign and $206.27 to Forward Together with Kennedy Stewart. Last month Irwin decided to cross the floor from COPE to Vision Vancouver.
As mentioned previously, the parties may not have reported contributions received prior to the rules coming into force on December 1. So it’s possible that other elected officials did donate (or donated more) to their parties in the first ten to eleven months of 2021.
Whether elected officials should be expected to donate to the political party that got them elected is open to debate. PolitiCoast looked at the provincial practices using 2018 data and found that BCNDP MLAs were by far the most likely to donate the max to their party.
With smaller salaries, its unsurprising that local politicians are seemingly less likely to give to their parties. Nevertheless, in an era of smaller donation limits, municipal political parties are going to be looking for every dollar they can to run a fully-funded campaign. If they can’t convince the people wearing their jerseys to donate, how are they expecting to win over the masses?
 One of the frustrating things about pulling these numbers together is there are some pretty apparent errors in each of the returns. Notably, A Better City Vancouver didn’t sum up their balance sheet in the correct boxes and neglected to add up the contributions they received for the two races and report that as their total revenue. TEAM meanwhile reported one donation of $1199 to their school board campaign (by Elizabeth Murphy) but then say they received $1239 in contributions of $100 or more and none from donors who gave under $100 for that race. We’ve done our best with the data we have.
 The COPE return lists a “JEA SWANSON” that we’ve assumed is a typo and was from Jean Swanson. It’s also unclear why this donation is above the allowable limit.
This post was updated on April 21 to include additional information about Elections BC’s rules for electoral organizations.