Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Business Vote in BC Local Government

I was looking over yesterday afternoon’s Township of Langley council agenda, and I noticed there was a presentation by the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce about reinstating the business vote in British Columbia for municipal elections. I did a quick search and found that this is one of the priorities of the BC Chamber of Commerce which is an umbrella organization for chambers of commerce throughout the province.

The BC Chamber of Commerce believes that businesses should have a vote because they pay local taxes. The Chamber feels that because business don’t have a vote, they are being unfairly taxed compared to people who actually live in a community. The Chamber believes that if a business meets the following criteria, it should be allowed to vote:

-The business must have a business number issued by Canada Revenue Agency
-The business must have a non-residential real property address
-The business must be paying a business class property tax
-The business must appoint a designated proxy to vote on its behalf
-A registered business voter may only be registered to vote for one business in a given municipality

When I think about a small business owner that lives in Surrey and has a shop in Langley, I understand the rationale behind the BC Chamber's thinking. But what about larger businesses? Should national or multi-national corporations have the right to vote at local government elections? I don’t believe they should and think that they are represented enough already and are effective in getting policy that benefit them passed. The Union of British Columbian Municipalities (which represents local government) agrees with my view against reinstating a business vote.

The business vote was suspended in BC due to the complexities of administration and the potential for abuse in 1993. In fact the City of London, England with a population of 7,000 (not to be confused with the region) is the only local government in the world that allows businesses the ability to vote. The Province launched a local government election task force that in 2010 recommended against allowing a business vote.

While I understand the reasoning behind the Langley Chamber's request for a business vote, I believe that with Business Improvement Areas and local chambers, businesses already have a strong voice. A local vote should be reserved for real people that live in BC.

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