COMMENT: At $18.2 million, election campaigns don't come cheap in B.C.
They’re off. The start to B.C.’s official pre-campaign period for the 2013 election campaign is well underway.
Day one of the pre-campaign would have been an easy miss, coming as it did on the same day a meteor crashed to earth and the Canucks fell to the Dallas Stars.
Heck, Elections BC didn’t even post a news release to honour the occasion on its website.
But as of Feb. 15, B.C.’s political parties are now restricted to spending no more than $1.15 million each and their 85 candidates a combined $6.2 million before the actual election writ is dropped in April, at which point they’ll be able to spend a further $4.6 million and their candidates another $6.2 million.
All told, B.C.’s 24 political parties can theoretically spend $18.2 million each leading to the May 14th election. That’s some serious coin.
Looked at from another angle, each party can spend $5.95 per voter through the pre-campaign and campaign periods trying to win the hearts and minds of B.C. voters.
Compare that $5.95 to what candidates at the federal level can spend.
In the 2011 federal election, candidates could spend $2.07 for each of the first 15,000 voters in their riding, $1.04 for each of the next 10,000 and 52 cents for each of the remaining voters. Their party could spend a further 70 cents for every voter in every riding where they ran a candidate.
For Vancouver Centre that would have translated into $100,555 for the candidate and a further $70,000 for the party. Nothing to sneeze at, but all of $1.71 per voter.
To put the difference between the federal and provincial limits into better context: had the provincial limit been in place in Vancouver Centre for the federal campaign, candidates and their parties could have spent just shy of $600,000 each.
By way of a provincial comparison, Quebec just lowered – lowered – its spending limit from $11.5 million to $8 million or $1.35 per voter. A province with twice the number of registered voters has an overall limit that is less than half the limit in B.C.
If a party can raise $18.2 million, of which there are only two parties in B.C. that conceivably can, they’ll likely spare no expense. And as a result voters might begin to feel a teeny bit inundated with TV ads, robocalls, lawn signs, and campaign paraphernalia over the coming weeks.
But nothing in the Election Act says that a party has to spend its entire campaign war chest equally across all ridings or split it equitably among all registered voters.
With $5.95 per voter available, party strategists have the luxury of being able to afford the latest technologies, voter ID systems and get-out-the-vote softwares to get the absolute best electoral bang for their buck. And as some B.C. voters are about to find out: not all voters are created equal in the eyes of those strategists. Some are about to be more inundated than others.
No doubt the BC Liberals will run a candidate against NDP leader Adrian Dix in Vancouver-Kingsway, but they won’t run a real “let’s win this one for the Gipper” campaign. And the NDP will run a candidate against Andrew Wilkinson in Vancouver-Quilchena, but they won’t be holding their breath in the hope of eking out a victory, fully-funded or not.
Of course, party leaders will say all the right things to deny the obvious: we’re campaigning for the votes of all British Columbians, we don’t take any vote for granted, or we’re running to win in all 85 ridings.
But after all that voter ID, statistical analysis and polling, strategists know very well that there’s likely less than 250,000 voters living in less than half of B.C.’s 85 ridings who will actually count on May 14th. And the two main parties will fish where the fish are.
One of the other unfortunate consequences of narrowcasting campaign resources on fewer and fewer voters, is a steady decline in voter turnout, as more and more voters feel they’ve been taken for granted or just plain ignored.
And when the price of admission is set so high as almost to bar pretenders is it any surprise that third parties like the Greens and the Conservatives or independent candidates find it difficult to break through?
With two parties on the prowl for $18.2 million each, there’s not much left over for the also-rans. Just a bit of loose change and pocket lint.
Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.