BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Paying the price

Financial documents for Vernon's 2011 civic election show the mayoralty and councillor candidates spent a staggering $109,663 on campaigns

Got money to burn? How about running for elected office?

Financial documents for the 2011 civic election indicate the mayoralty and councillor candidates in Vernon spent a staggering $109,663 on their campaigns last November.

Topping the list was Patrick Davies, who  had total expenses of $31,208 — more than the other two mayoralty hopefuls combined and exceeding the  median wage of $29,541 for Vernon men and $18,278 for women (2006 census).

“As a businessperson out of nowhere and a young guy, we had to get out there and give everything we had,” Davies said of delving into politics for the first time.

That meant doling out $11,942 for signs and pamphlets and $10,241 for advertising (including The Morning Star). A significant effort was also placed on a website and social media.

Davies admits the bills may deter some people from running for office.

“For someone who wants to make a difference, if you don’t have the capital, you’re not going to win,” he said.

And to fuel his efforts, Davies didn’t just rely on the kindness of others. He forked out $7,639 of his own cash and $10,000 came from two businesses he owns. Despite coming in third, he has no regrets.

“To get the response I did from the people who voted was great,” he said.

Rob Sawatzky knew it was going to cost a couple of nickels when he decided to hang up his stethoscope and run for mayor.

“Given that I didn’t have a high profile and business roots, I was OK with picking up the cost,” said the now mayor.

Of his $19,689 in expenses, he provided $13,500, with the rest coming from supporters, mostly in the form of $500 or less (the largest contribution was $750).

Sawatzky has a very real concern that some people with the enthusiasm and skills the city needs could be left on the sidelines because their bank accounts, or those of their associates, are lacking.

“It could happen and that would be a shame,” he said.

Based on the 30 per cent voter turnout in November, Sawatzky questions the entire campaign process.

“It’s not a positive sign when you’re spending money and not getting voters out,” he said.

Ultimately, running a campaign is a double-edged sword. You would hope voters will base their support on ideas but to get your message out, you need brochures and signs.

“I was blown away by some of the expenses like advertising,” said Catherine Lord, who was successfully elected as a councillor.

Lord, who spent $6,488, isn’t sure if budgets will block people from participating in the democratic process.

“The money aspect has always been there and it just gets more expensive,” she said.

It’s interesting to note that both Patrick Nicol and Mary-Jo O’Keefe are sitting on Vernon council but while he spent the most at $13,233, she forked out $1,948, the middle of the pack among the 15 candidates.

It should also be noted that spending habits in no way indicate that one candidate is more qualified or passionate than another. They all put themselves forward for community service and that is the most important aspect to consider.

But reality being reality, if you are considering running for council in 2014, you might want to start pinching your pennies now.

—Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star

richard@vernonmorningstar.com