Posted by: VPSN | April 15, 2010

Advocating against the corporate vote

Earlier today the Vancouver Public Space Network sent off a submission to the Local Government Elections Taskforce.

In October of last year, the Taskforce was charged with the reviewing issues relating to local government elections and has been gathering input with a view to recommending legislative changes “to improve the electoral process for local government elections across B.C.”

Although there are likely a number of issues that such a review could have focussed on (voter apathy and declining participation in elections being chief among these), the Taskforce was given the task of focusing on a more restricted set of issues first and foremost.  These are:

  • Campaign finance, including contribution/spending disclosure and limits, and tax credits
  • Enforcement processes and outcomes
  • Role of the chief electoral officer (B.C.) in local government elections
  • Election cycle (term of office)
  • Corporate vote
  • Other agreed upon matters, (e.g. matters raised in UBCM resolutions such as eligibility of local government volunteers to be candidates)

It was the fifth of these items that promted our letter to the Taskforce.  In particular, because there has been a concerted effort on the part of certain business associations to push for an extension of voting rights to for-profit corporations.  Under such a change, someone who owned a business in the City of Vancouver would get to vote twice… something that we feel us fundamentally counter to the spirit of democracy and the notion of “one person, one vote.”

Beyond the broader principles of the issue, there are also substantial practical limitations to any rationale in support of the corporate vote.

The text of our letter is excerpted here:


…Our commitment to such community engagement, and our recognition that the per capita rate of municipal voter turnout in Vancouver has declined since 1990 (source:  City of Vancouver letter to Task Force, January 27, 2010) prompts us to respond negatively to the proposed reinstatement of the corporate vote in municipal elections in B.C.

Our response is based on several factors:

  1. 1. In their argument in favour of the corporate vote, organizations such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the BC Chamber of Commerce suggest that the corporations’ property tax load warrants the right to vote, what they describe as “fairness in representation”.  It is our experience, however, that the right to vote has an impact on who is elected but has no obvious influence on how those elected will govern.  In other words, reinstating the corporate vote does not appear to be a solution to the problem that business and advocacy organizations have identified.
  2. Further, the conclusions stated in the Corporate Vote Discussion Paper on the impact of the corporate vote prior to 1996 indicate that “the effectiveness of the vote on addressing business concerns were arguably minimal.” and “The corporate vote as it formerly existed did not appear to directly impact tax rates on business.” (source:  Government Voting Task Force Corporate Vote Discussion Paper, p. 7)
  3. There are many municipal services that are of benefit to both residents and businesses (e.g., roads and sidewalks, sewage systems, waterworks, recycling, fire and rescue services, etc.).  There are other municipal services that are of compelling need to residents and of little or no interest to corporations (e.g., libraries and parks, animal control, etc.).  It is easy to foresee the possibility of residents’ perceiving their needs being set aside because of a perceived greater impact of corporate voters.
  4. The right to vote is no longer based on paying taxes but rather, on ones status as an individual citizen.  This principle needs to remain intact and unaltered.
  5. We believe that it is undemocratic for a voter to have more than one vote. The right to vote should remain an individual right.  The (re-)creation of a corporate voting mechanism would negatively compromise this.
  6. It is widely recognized that the per capita rate of municipal voter turnout has declined since 1990, and that voter apathy is overcome only when citizens believe their vote matters. Reintroduction of the corporate vote could have the opposite effect, with voters feeling further disenfranchised. This may, in turn, create a greater reduction of public confidence in the electoral system.  Rather than focus on the corporate vote, we respectfully suggest that the taskforce recommend to the Province that the important issue at hand is the need to reverse the trend of voter apathy.
  7. Finally, it is apparent in Vancouver that the size of Council hasn’t changed even though the population continues to grow.  This suggests two areas that we hope you will recommend that the Province explore: a) the size of Councils, and b) expanding the number of voters by instituting non-citizen resident voting rights.

In light of these seven points, we strongly urge you to recommend against the re-introduction of the corporate vote.

:: For more information on the VPSN’s position on this issue, please contact Lyndsay Poaps, Coordinator of our Democratic Spaces Working Group – lyndsay [at] vancouverpublicspace.ca.

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Responses

  1. 1. You said; “It is our experience, however, that the right to vote has an impact on who is elected but has no obvious influence on how those elected will govern.” This does not make sense. If businesses in a municipality have the ability to get one business minded individual elected to their local government, that person will be their voice to represent their views – that’s all we ask.
    2. Effectiveness: The process CFIB has recommended would make the system fair, effective and eliminate potential for abuse. In 1990 businesses paid 1.8 times more than residents on same value property, then the vote was removed in 1993 and businesses now pay almost three times more than residents. This shows that indeed there has been some evidence that The corporate vote appears to directly impact tax rates on business.
    3. Some argue that restoring the municipal business vote would allow businesses to take over municipal elections and negate the influence that residents have over municipal affairs. There are 2,993,420 eligible voters in BC. BC’s current population is 4.5 million people. The 390,000 businesses in BC represent just one potential business vote for every 7.7 citizens. In fact, a strong argument could be made the business vote will not go nearly far enough to create accountability to businesses.
    4. It is interesting to note that the Local Government Act allows residential property owners to vote as non-resident electors, in multiple municipalities, wherever they own a residential property even if they are not residents of the municipality. The right to vote as a non-resident elector recognizes the inherent right to representation relative to the taxes a property owner pays in each municipality. It points to a fundamental connection between taxation and representation. It is this fundamental right to have a vote in relation to property taxation that BC’s businesses are seeking through restoration of the business vote; a right that non-resident residential property owners already enjoy. The non-residential elector who owns five residential properties, in five different municipalities, gets to vote five times in relation to the taxes they pay in each. How is this fair in relation to business owners in these communities that do not even get one vote to represent their business taxes?
    5. As a business cannot literally vote, a proxy must be designated. This means that in some cases, one person may vote twice in a municipal election. For example, a business owner who operates a business in Richmond and lives in Richmond could vote twice in the Richmond election, once As the proxy vote for the business and once as a resident. However, the business is really the “person” with the voting rights in this case. The business gets the right to vote as it is taxed. Thus, the principle of no taxation without representation is respected. There is much precedent for proxy voting. Many people currently cast two ballots in local government elections in BC. Blind people, those that cannot speak English well and those that can’t read all currently have the ability to designate proxies who may reside in the same municipality. Many proxy voters then vote twice in the same election. It is also worth noting that BC law recognises a business as a person with all of the responsibilities of a person. Governments require businesses to abide by the same laws and regulations as a person and subject to the same liabilities. Shouldn’t some of the rights attached to the responsibilities of personhood also apply to businesses, especially in light of the onerous tax burden they are being forced to endure?
    6. The business vote will likely result in a much greater involvement and interest in local government elections from business owners, their staff and families.

    • Brian might find it easier to comprehend Item 1 by reading Government Voting Task Force Corporate Vote Discussion Paper, p. 7 which, among other things states “effectiveness of the vote on addressing business concerns were arguably minimal.”

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  3. […] submission to the Task Force argued against the re-introduction of the corporate vote and we are very […]


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