Sweeping changes to the Elections Law will likely not include the mandatory political party designation that the original bill contained during its second reading last Friday (14 October). Both the Deputy Governor and leading independent MLA critics indicated the language would be have to be substantially changed or dropped entirely before the bill leaves the upcoming committee stage.
In introductory floor remarks, Hon. Franz Manderson said government wrote the language as a way to level the playing field between candidates affiliated with an organised political party and candidates affiliated in nearly everything but party name. The bill also increases the campaign finance limits: from $30,000 to $36,000 for each candidate of a party, and from $35,000 to $42,000 for each candidate not associated with a party.
“The intention of this bill is not to enforce independent candidates who are loosely aligned into registering (as a party), but to help ensure that those groups operating as political parties do not have an unfair financial advantage,” the Deputy Governor said.
North Side independent MLA Ezzard Miller said it would be easier to remove the differences altogether.
“Why is there a difference? A party is made up of individual candidates. A party doesn’t get nominated; each individual candidates has to get nominated for that party. Why do we have to have a difference in the funds?”
Mr. Miller suggested an amendment for a $40,000 for all candidates would be offered.
To the bill’s premise that affiliated candidates should be deemed by the Supervisor of Elections as being members of a political party, Mr. Manderson indicated that an upcoming government amendment would offer the supervisor greater flexibility in making that determination.
“It removes the wording that was interpreted as making party registration mandatory and allows the supv of elect to deem a group of candidates whose activities indicate that they have come together to contest an election to be collectively treated as a political party,” he said, for the purposes of the bill that regulates campaign expenses of candidates and parties.
Mr. Miller sharply criticised the proposed amendment as being worse than the original language because the supervisor could play favorites by placing a party tag on one group of candidates arbitrarily.
“But the group that he likes, he can say, ‘well, I’m not deeming them a political party,’ because there’s no guarantee of consistency in the decision-making. And that troubles me more than all.”
Mr. Miller gave an example of how he and East End MLA Arden McLean could run afoul of the proposed new law by being independents who speak at each other’s events or do something supportive for a candidate in another district who is affiliated with a party.
“For instance, me and the member from East End work very closely in Parliament. Everybody knows that. We just happen to buy campaign hats from the same source and they’re the same colour. We produce two separate manifestos. Our national issues are the same. Our district issues are different. He is a speaker at my campaign rally to launch; I am a speaker at his.”
Mr. Miller said political parties have certain deliberate characteristics that he and other independents do not embrace or engage, and an outside entity should not be able to unilaterally deem that he is in a party.
“We are authorising the supervisor to unilaterally, single-handedly, dictatorially, Trumpunian-like way, to say that at his sole discretion and wisdom we are a political party,” said Mr. Miller.