Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith (right) is being called on to resign by former mayor Steve Price after McNeil-Smith violated election expense limits. (Black Press File).

Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith (right) is being called on to resign by former mayor Steve Price after McNeil-Smith violated election expense limits. (Black Press File).

Sidney mayor called on to resign

Cliff McNeil-Smith exceeded campaign spending limit

Steve Price, the former mayor of Sidney, is calling on this successor, Cliff McNeil-Smith, to resign after he violated campaign spending limits.

“He [McNeil-Smith] is an honourable person,” said Price. “But he broke the campaign rules, and he needs to resign.”

Price’s demand for McNeil-Smith’s resignation rests on provisions in the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act (LECFA). It states that an “elected candidate who exceeds their expense limit loses their seat.”

McNeil-Smith said he will remain in office until a court has heard his case. While McNeil-Smith acknowledged that this hearing could end up costing him his office, he expressed confidence.

“We believe that we can make a good case in our court application,” said McNeil-Smith.

This back-and-forth between politicial rivals ensued after McNeil-Smith told Elections B.C. that his winning mayoral campaign exceeded the mayoral spending limit by $1,877 in his total spending of $11,349.

McNeil-Smith won Sidney’s mayoral race on Oct. 20, 2018 in a landslide, with 3,740 votes to Price’s 929 votes.

RELATED: McNeil-Smith ousts incumbent for Sidney mayor’s seat

Last year’s local elections were the first time candidates, elector organizations and third-party advertising sponsors had to follow expense limits.

McNeil-Smith said his campaign accepts responsibility for the mistake, adding that his campaign will voluntarily pay the necessary fine, which amounts to twice the amount by which he exceeded the limit.

“It was an unintentional mistake,” he said.

McNeil-Smith also has imminent plans to seek legal relief. A court could hear his case in as early as two weeks, he said.

“Candidates or financial agents can apply to the Supreme Court for a court order for relief from disclosure requirements and expense limit penalties,” the LECFA reads.

A court may provide relief “only if satisfied that exceeding the expense limit did not materially affect the result of the election” and that candidate “exercised due diligence” to ensure spending limits are not exceeded.

McNeil-Smith said his application will be able to prove that the excessive spending did not materially affect the outcome.

Price insists that Elections B.C. must enforce the rule regardless of the circumstances. “It’s quite black and white,” he said. Future candidates would otherwise deliberately exceed spending limits, then seek relief, he said.

Price said the rules are unambiguous. “We were told at the start of the campaign that there is no room for error,” said Price, adding he deliberately spent several hundred dollars less than what the limit would have permitted.

Rebecca Penz, communications director with Elections B.C., said it would be up to the Supreme Court of B.C. — not Elections B.C. — to determine whether the excessive spending “materially affected” the outcome and whether McNeill-Smith showed “due diligence.”

RELATED: Tanner’s Books owner is running for Sidney mayor

Of some interest is the nature of the disclosure. Price said he found out about the violation after McNeil-Smith had publicly disclosed it. Candidates had until Jan. 18, 2019 to submit final disclosures.

Penz said Elections B.C. is currently preparing the disclosure statements and contribution data for publication, leaving open the possibility that Elections B.C. might find additional irregularities or not.

“These will be posted online in early February, and a media advisory will notify media that they are available,” she said. “At this time, I can provide you with general information about the rules but not speak to any specific situations.”

McNeil-Smith’s disclosure threatens to leave Sidney in a state of uncertainty, but the mayor said he will be able to govern until the court has rendered its ruling.

RELATED: North Saanich councillor resigns one month after election

For Price, the situation appears clear. McNeill-Smith should not wait until a judge could end up removing him from office. Rather, he should resign to set the stage for a “fair” election, said Price.

So would Price, who served one term as mayor before losing in October 2018, run in such an election? He did not commit one way or another, but added that he does have more time these days.

wolfgang.depner@saanichnews.com

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