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.
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.
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.
Totally agree, if this allowed to stand then it will become common practice to overspend know that all you have to do is pay a small fine, the newe rules were put in place to create a level playing field and to stop candidates with deep pockets from buying elections
— Steve Price (@MayorPrice) January 24, 2019
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.”
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.
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.