Dermod Travis: ’Tis the season for pre-election mudslinging

Judging by the mud flying, it seems — splat — local elections are well underway across B.C.

If the campaign turns out anything like the opening acts, there are going to be some hefty dry-cleaning bills this month.

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So what does the field of candidates look like after the dust settled and nominations closed?

In the Capital Regional District, Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps — both seeking re-election — just received a stinging rebuke from B.C.’s police complaint commissioner, Stan Lowe, over their handling of former Victoria police chief Frank Elsner’s misdeeds.

This spring, two of Vancouver’s more established civic parties proved that money doesn’t always buy you political smarts.

Vancouver’s oldest party — the Non-Partisan Association — is clearly vying for the Messiest Nomination Meeting of the Year award.

It started last summer when Vancouver city councillor Geoff Meggs quit and became Premier John Horgan’s chief of staff, forcing a byelection. Former 2011 Cedar party mayoral — and then councillor — hopeful Glen Chernen sought the NPA’s nomination, as did former political staffer Hector Bremner. Bremner took the nomination and went on to win the byelection.

The duel was not over between Chernen and Bremner, however.

Both had their sights on the NPA’s mayoral nomination, but Chernen managed to outfox Bremner at the party’s annual general meeting last November and successfully elected a majority of his supporters to the party’s board of directors.

It was the stacked NPA board that denied Bremner the right to run for the party’s mayoral nomination last May, clearing the path for Chernen, or so he thought. Two other candidates had been “greenlighted” to seek the nomination and one, Ken Sim, went on to win.

Bremner and Chernen have both since bolted the NPA. Bremner is now running for mayor with his freshly minted Yes Vancouver party, and Chernen is running for council under former Conservative MP Wai Young’s Coalition Vancouver party.

Not to be outdone by the NPA, Vision Vancouver announced last spring that it wouldn’t run a candidate for mayor, leaving one possible hopeful, Shauna Sylvester, in the lurch. Sylvester announced that she would run for mayor as an independent instead.

Vision then reversed course entirely and decided to run a candidate for mayor, after all.

At a June nomination meeting, Squamish hereditary chief Ian Campbell won the nod. Campbell bowed out of the race shortly before nominations closed, leaving Vision exactly where it was last spring.

Confused? Imagine what it must be like for Vancouver voters.

Up in Nanaimo, no — on second thought — let’s just skip over Nanaimo.

At least three mayoral candidates in B.C. are facing possible citations by the Law Society of B.C. What are the odds?

Richmond hopeful Hong Guo is facing a citation “relating to millions of dollars that are alleged to have gone missing from her company’s trust account;” former West Vancouver mayor Mark Sager — seeking the top job again — is alleged to have “accepted gifts totalling more than $100,000 from a client” and Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker is alleged to have misappropriated money from client trust funds.

Out in Chilliwack, Coun. Sam Waddington — now running for mayor — has had his 2017 expenses referred to the RCMP by the outgoing council.

The timing of the decision adds to a disturbing number of complaints being filed against candidates this election cycle. One can only hope that such filings are not a political tactic and that the complaints have some substance.

These are also the first local elections under B.C.’s new campaign-financing rules.

It’s tough to listen to grown-up political strategists whine, but whining they are.

The spending limits have been well-known since June 2015, when the all-party Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits released its final report to the B.C. legislature.

They were not a last-minute surprise. They are neither the highest nor the lowest limits in Canada. They are more than enough to run a campaign.

They’ve also resulted in a far greater number of credible independent candidates seeking office, and that’s a good thing. As pollster Mario Canseco noted, the new rules are “changing the electoral landscape.”

Candidates would be well-advised, however, to make certain they leave enough money to cover the dry-cleaning bills.

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.

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