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Does money buy votes? Not in northern B.C.

Posted on 24 February 2015

Yesterday, Elections B.C. released the campaign financing disclosure forms from the 2014 municipal elections. The forms tells us how much politicians spent and received in their bid to get elected. I decided to explore some of the numbers.

listen to ‘Does money buy votes? Some numbers from the northern B.C. municipal elections’ on audioBoom

To get this out of the way, in northern B.C. cities1  spending more money didn’t necessarily result in more votes. In Prince George, Don Zurowski spent $72,249.29 on his campaign, while winner Lyn Hall spent just $39,911.332. In Quesnel, incumbent Mary Sjostrom spent more than twice as much as Bob Simpson in the mayor’s race:  $18,446.12 vs $7327.35. Still, Simpson more than doubled Sjostrom’s votes, winning 2128 to 884. More cash did not mean more support.

In Terrace, winner Carol Leclerc did outspend runner-up Bruce Bidgood, but the difference in spending was small: just over five hundred dollars. And in Prince Rupert, winner Lee Brain did have the most expensive campaign, but runner-up Jack Mussalum came second, despite spending the least of all four candidates for mayor.

Diving a bit more into the Prince George numbers, six of the eight people to be elected to council were in the top eight spenders – only Brian Skakun and Garth Frizzell didn’t have the biggest budgets. That didn’t stop them from doing well, though- Skakun finished first and Frizzell third.

The most expensive northern campaign was easily Don Zurowski’s failed bid for mayor of Prince George. In fact, he spent more than the combined totals of all six mayoral candidates in Terrace and Prince Rupert combined. It still wasn’t enough to match Shari Green’s $81,000 campaign in 2011, though.

The cheapest mayor’s race was Dawson Creek, where Dale Bumstead faced zero challengers and spent zero dollars. Fort St John mayor Lori Ackerman could also have a run a zero-dollar campaign, but she spent nearly seventeen-hundred dollars upgrading her website before finding out she would be standing unopposed.

Zero dollar campaigns worked out alright for Nelson Kinney of Prince Rupert and Terry McFayden of Dawson Creek, who managed to get ont o council without any expenditures, but in Prince George, everyone who spent zero dollars finished in the bottom half of the race.

So let’s say you want to run an election campaign in one of B.C.’s northern cities… what’s it going to cost?

Prince George, as the biggest and most expensive city, skews the numbers, especially with Zurowski’s outlying budget. The average budge tof a winning campaign in Dawson Creek, Fort St John, Terrace, Prince Rupert, and Quesnel is between two-and-three thousand dollars3. The price of winning a council seat in Prince George is more than eight times that: $17,701.21. And for mayor, the minimum winning bid across the last decade in Prince George is about $40,000. For comparison’s sake, the minimum down payment on the average house in Prince George is $13,000.

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  1. Prince George, Quesnel, Fort St John, Dawson Creek, Terrace, and Prince Rupert are the six jurisdictions defined as a “city” in B.C.’s north 

  2. For the money spent, I am using “total expenditures” minus “surplus funds” 

  3. Since Dale Bumstead and Lori Ackerman had no challengers and therefore spent less than if there were a race, I exluded them from this calculation 

Filed under: politics, Prince George

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