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Our View: Developer donations a difficult issue

Can we do better when it comes to getting money out of politics?

There seem to be only partial solutions to the problem of the real or suspected influence of money on local politics.

The changes to local election rules in 2017 eliminated direct corporate or union donations. Caps on amounts cut spending overall.

Yet as we have seen here in Langley, as well as in other communities, wealthy individuals still donate significant sums, especially when there are families or multiple corporate directors able to donate.

The problem is not one of direct bribes or overt influence. Depending on where you stand “development friendly” is either a badge of honour and a sign of sensible thinking, or it means allowing developers to run roughshod over existing neighbourhoods. You can find both opinions at any given public hearing at any council meeting in Metro Vancouver.

It is enough for some people, including the courts in B.C., that councillors and mayors do not have a direct financial interest in a project on which they cast a vote. We have seen councillors here recuse themselves for reasons of personal ownership, or of other connections that could be seen as causing a conflict.

But to say that there is simply no conflict because there is no financial interest is not enough.

The public will always look askance at decisions made that are connected to anyone who gave sizable donations. It does not matter that the councillor’s intentions were pure – suspicions, founded or not, corrode the public’s faith in democratic governance.

Just because there is no legal conflict of interest does not mean the system could not be further improved. The reforms of 2017 have gone a long way, but perhaps there is still further to go in protecting our local democracy.

– M.C.

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