With local government elections just over two months away, a potential third-party player has emerged in Sechelt, a jurisdiction where third-party advertising has been a significant factor in past elections.
The group, which calls itself Sechelt Deserves Better, has established a website (secheltdeservesbetter.com) and purchased advertising in Coast Reporter.
The advertising is being booked through a Vancouver-based communications firm, which is a normal business practice for many advertisers.
The communications firm, Citizen Relations, referred inquiries to a generic Sechelt Deserves Better email address and Coast Reporter’s subsequent request for an interview with the key people behind the group drew a response, which is almost identical to the message on the “About” section of its website:
“Sechelt Deserves Better is the result of collaboration by a group of nearly a dozen proud, but concerned residents of Sechelt. Over the past week, our group has increased to nearly 40 people and continues to grow,” the unsigned email said. “Our objective is to shine a light on the issues facing our community and raise awareness about the actions and inactions of the current Sechelt mayor and council.
“Sechelt Deserves Better is committed to researching and publishing facts about various aspects of our local community to help both residents and potential candidates better understand the issues.
“We have no plans to endorse any single candidate in the upcoming municipal election. Sechelt Deserves Better wants the focus to be on the facts rather than on the members of the group.”
Coast Reporter was unable to verify the numbers quoted in the email, but the group’s Facebook page had just three likes and five followers as of Aug. 7.
All of the declared council and mayoralty candidates in Sechelt contacted by Coast Reporter said they were not associated with Sechelt Deserves Better and did not know who is behind it.
Third parties played a prominent role in both the 2011 and 2014 elections in Sechelt, leading the legislature’s Special Committee on Local Elections Spending Limits to note in its final report that “Sechelt was identified as an outlier in terms of higher reported spending than appeared typical for similarly-sized communities.”
For a Better Sechelt (FABS) spent around $46,000 during the 2011 campaign, eventually producing a report card on incumbent councillors, but ended up backing off from their promise to endorse candidates.
In 2014, third-party campaigns critical of then-mayor John Henderson and several incumbent councillors spent more than $22,000 with around $10,500 of if coming from the group Vote for Change, which supported the candidacy of Bruce Milne.
That year also saw candidates spending much more than they had in previous campaigns.
The Elections BC rules around third-party advertising come into force when the campaign period begins. At that point, “any transmission of a communication to the public by a third party sponsor … that directly or indirectly promotes or opposes a candidate or an elector organization, including a communication that takes a position on an issue associated with a candidate or elector organization,” is considered a third-party ad and is subject to the spending limits.
The Special Committee on Local Elections Spending Limits’ work led to new rules that will apply to campaign fundraising and spending by candidates, elector organizations and third-party sponsors for 2018.
During the campaign period, Sept. 22 to Oct. 20, there will be a limit of $750 on so-called directed advertising – ads that name or endorse candidates – by third parties.
Third-party sponsors will be allowed to spend up to $150,000 on directed and issue advertising. Issue advertising is “communication respecting an issue of public policy, including an assent voting issue, and not specifically related to any candidate or elector organization.”