City of Burlington considers political donation rebate program to encourage more candidates


Published April 11, 2022 at 4:42 pm

A program that aims to help newcomers run for municipal office in Burlington is currently being discussed by city councillors.

The program is a rebate that would see a percentage of modest contributions to candidates for mayor or city councillor be rebated.

“Municipal elected office is very challenging to break into,” said Ward 3 councillor Rory Nisan, one of the main supporters of the plan.

“Incumbency advantage is strong and incumbents often stay in the job for decades. Money networks are fostered over time and raising money is a significant barrier for new candidates.”

Proponents of the program say a campaign contribution rebate encourages people to get involved in their local elections by donating to their favoured candidate. More importantly, a well-designed program will encourage more small to medium sized donations that challengers rely on. A hard cap ensures that the big donors are not advantaged.

A staff report on the program said similar efforts have been made in other GTA municipalities, to limited success. Uptake hasn’t been very high and some cities have even discontinued the program.

“This type of program is important to levelling the playing field and improving equity and inclusion on council by encouraging more diverse representation rather than the current system that favours those who know the right people. It will encourage more young people, women and BIPOC residents to run for office.”

Similar incentives for donations are used at the provincial and federal levels through tax credits.

Councillors at a committee meeting sent the report back to city staff for more information.

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