The election bills have been tabulated in Richmond’s four provincial ridings and the B.C. Liberals once again led the way in spending by a wide margin over their closest competitor, the B.C. NDP.
In total, Richmond’s four elected Liberal MLAs spent about $585,000 worth of taxpayer-subsidized campaign donations to get elected in the May 9 election, while the New Democrats spent about $181,000.
Barring a promise by then opposition leader and now Premier John Horgan to “ban big money” in politics, election spending appears to be on a runaway course.
The NDP spent more money in Richmond than it did in all of the three prior elections combined (about $179,000). Meanwhile, the Liberals spent about 50 per cent in 2017 of what they did in the three prior elections.
Shining a rare spotlight on B.C., the New York Times dubbed the province as the “Wild West” of campaign finance just prior to the election.
In total, the Liberals, primed by corporate donations, spent $13.6 million on their failed campaign, while the NDP spent $7.91 million while riding a wave of union contributions. Combined, they spent $5.4 million on media advertising. The party that holds the balance of power, the Green Party of B.C., spent $905,000.
Locally, the Liberals sunk the most money into the newly minted Richmond-Queensborough riding, which proved successful, if one believes money can buy votes. There, rookie MLA Jas Johal won his riding over New Democrat Aman Singh by just 134 votes (8,218 to 8,084) as he spent $173,853 – or $21.16 per vote. Singh spent $40,446 ($5.04 per vote), while Johal and Singh’s Green competitor Michael Wolfe took the cake in Richmond for fewest dollars spent on votes, at a meager 26 cents. Wolfe spent $650 and garnered 2,524 votes, a personal provincial election record for the perennial Green runner-up.
In Richmond-Steveston, Green candidate Roy Sakata practically broke the Green’s bank with $3,274 in spending. Winner John Yap spent $145,417, spending the least amount of money per vote for a Liberal candidate ($14.07). The New Democrat with the biggest bang for her buck was Yap’s competitor Kelly Greene, who spent $30,244 to get 8,542 votes($3.54).
City councillor Chak Au blew NDP spending out of the water in Richmond South Centre with a $90,027 tab – still far less than Liberal winner Linda Reid who spent about $133,092.
Extra spending by the NDP correlates to vote gains in Richmond. In 2013, the NDP took 26.6 per cent of the vote, while this election it took 38.3 per cent. No other municipality saw greater gains by the NDP on May 9.
The New Democrat with the poorest showing (33.7 per cent), Lyren Chiu, spent the least amount of money ($21,445) – although she was also inconspicuous in the last two weeks of the campaign, missing several public meetings with no explanation. Chiu ran in Richmond North Centre against Liberal incumbent Teresa Wat, who was the only Liberal to tip past 50 per cent of the popular vote as she spent $132,932.
As a result of few effective limitations on campaign spending and a tax credit program worth up to $500 for someone who donates up to $1,150, the province foregoes about $4 million in revenue each year, according to the Vancouver Sun. The Sun reported on Monday that NDP Attorney General David Eby said he is working on legislation to reform electoral financing.
“We’re looking at retroactivity in terms of donations that have been accepted after the last election that would be in violation of the new limits in the bill and how that money could possibly be used,” Eby told the Sun.
By the numbers:
26 - cents per Michael Wolfe vote
21.16 - dollars per Jas Johal vote
90,000 - dollars spent by Chak Au
4,000,000 - tax dollars diverted to elections annually