More on Municipal Elections and the Corporate Vote

Last week I posted a rather neutral piece about the possible reform of Municipal Election rules to allow corporations to once again vote in their local elections. I’ll be honest, at the time my opinion was fairly neutral on the topic. I could see arguments for and against allowing corporations to vote in local elections, which frankly surprised me. There was a time when I would have recoiled at the idea of corporations being given the same rights as persons, but honestly those were days when I thought of corporations as inherently evil entities, worthy of deep scrutiny and wariness. That was a position I found myself forced to re-evaluate when I become a business owner 10 years ago and a few years later incorporated the partnership behind that business.

I have to admit I’m still a bit torn on this issue. I feel like there needs to be a way for business owners to have a say in municipal politics, not because I think that businesses pay an undue tax burden, but because we are impacted by decisions and taxes originating from our local governments. The issue first came up for me during the last municipal elections when, as I worked on the campaign to elect the current Vancouver mayor, some colleagues of mine in businesses noted that they were not able to vote in the elections despite owning a business in the district — both partners in the business live in other municipalities. Currently a lot of corporations have their say in elections through donations to campaigns, which I’m not convinced is the most democratic way for corporations to be involved. With campaign donations the larger corporations have the potential to have influence based on the size of the company and what they can afford to contribute. If given a vote, corporations would all be given equal billing with one vote per company (for the record I would be in favour of a system where if the owner of a business lived in the municipality they would not be given an additional corporate vote, if corporations were given the vote at all). If campaign finance reform were put through, limiting the influence that corporations can have on elections through large campaign contributions, (something I’m in favour of for the record) then how would business owners — who’s livelihoods can really be impacted by municipal government decisions — have their say if they don’t live in the same district as their corporation is housed?

At the end of the day, I have to say I’m actually not comfortable with corporations being given the vote. It just doesn’t sit well with me. And when I think about extending it beyond the municipal level to provincial or federal elections I’m equally against it. That said, I do think there needs to be a way for all business owners, and not just those with big budgets, to have their say in how political decision impact their livelihoods, I’m just not sure what the best way for that to happen is.