The cost of winning a seat on Saanich council

Costs of Saanich 2017 byelection extraordinarily high compared to past election

Turns out it isn’t cheap to get on Saanich council.

With 10 candidates vying for one spot, Saanich council’s 2017 byelection in September was highly competitive. Elections B.C. recently released the reported campaign expenses and the numbers are significantly higher than the previous general election in 2014.

All 10 candidates for the 2017 byelection spent a total of $104,795 chasing one seat. In 2014, the eight elected council members spent about $144,042 while Mayor Richard Atwell and former mayor Frank Leonard reported expenses of $107,951 between them (nearly split 50-50).

With incumbents and new candidates already launching their campaigns for the 2018 general election on Oct. 20, here is an elementary, but worthy look at what it cost to win in the past two Saanich elections. (The 2017 numbers are as reported by the candidates and yet unconfirmed by Elections B.C.).

Saanich Coun. Karen Harper won the byelection as the top vote-getter with 2,340 and reported the highest expenses, about $33,477. In a basic breakdown Harper’s win worked out to $14.31 per vote. It’s a rather elementary ratio but for the sake of simplicity let’s use it for now before considering other factors later.

Second to Harper was Rebecca Mersereau with 2,238 votes and $23,446 in expenses for a ratio of $10.48 per vote, followed by Nathalie Chambers with 1,856 votes ($19,699), a ratio of $10.61 per vote. The three stood out in votes, but not expenditures, ahead of Michael Geoghegan ($16,648), fourth in votes with 863 votes and the highest vote-per-dollar ratio of $19.29.

Granted, no equation is perfect. Mostly, however, there is a correlation between money spent and votes earned, with exceptions.

In the rest of the byelection voting results: Ned Taylor earned 597 ($1,448) at $2.43 per vote, Rob Wickson 577 ($6,714) at $11.64 per vote, Shawn Newby 465 ($2,426) at $5.22 per vote, Marsha Henderson 334 ($872) at $2.61 per vote, Keith Davidoff 163 ($12) at just seven cents and Art Pollard 83 ($53) $0.64 per vote.

Pit those numbers against the 2014 general election when Coun. Dean Murdock was the top vote-getter with 14,781 on $13,718. That’s an efficient 93 cents per vote.

To be clear, the Saanich byelection is an anomaly and voter dollars do go a lot further in the general election. And that’s when we weigh in other factors.

As a past winner, Murdock was well known in name recognition and was seeking his third term in 2014, and incumbents hold a proven advantage in municipal elections. Murdock, like others, also owned the physical asset from the previous election such as signs.

The highest cost per vote for an elected Saanich councillor in 2014 went to Fred Haynes at $2.18 per vote, with the highest reported expense of $29,393 (Haynes was fifth in voting). Next was Sanders who won her fourth term at $1.81 per vote with $23,530 spent.

But the best bang for the buck in the 2014 election was Mersereau, who missed the eighth spot by 30 votes on just 31 cents per vote. Note that Mersereau upped her game and claimed $19.7K in expenses in 2017. The most efficient cost for a winner in 2014 was Vic Derman, who shelled out most of his own money for a vote per dollar ratio of 75 cents each.

Looking at Saanich’s 2017 byelection and 2014 municipal election shows how will the new rules affect the upcoming 2018 general election in B.C. Saanich.

It’s common for candidates to fund a good chunk of their own expenses. Per the new rules, self funding will now be limited to $2,400 per candidate, $1,200 per individual donor and of course, unions and corporations will be banned.

In past Saanich elections CUPE and other unions have donated several thousands to Saanich councillors.

As one CRD director put it, groups in Alberta have shown the way around the rule by striking political action committees that have come under scrutiny. There are also election committees from which individual members will each donate money. That same director also believes money that once came from candidates may well find its way back into the expense sheet, this time through the back accounts of spouses, siblings, children, extended family members and friends.

Fun facts: Saanich champion Tim Kane, who clearly believes in healthy competition, donated $100 to almost every candidate in the 2017 byelection.

Saanich’s Allen Vandekerkhove donated $5,000 to Geoghegan and $5,000 to Harper. In 2014, Vandekerkhove donated $5,000 to Haynes and $10,000 to Atwell.

Davidoff spent just $12 though did receive a $100 donation (from former MLA Ida Chong). He’s retained the $100 for a future campaign.

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