The Surrey Board of Trade is planning to lobby the provincial government to reinstate a business vote in municipal elections.
In a release Wednesday (July 13), the board said local elected officials should be accountable to business taxpayers through the electoral system.
“Businesses bear the burden of taxation, even though they create jobs, give back to their communities, and make significant investments in the city, but they are not allowed to participate in the election process,” said Anita Huberman, president and CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade.
Until 1993, a business – or corporate – vote existed in B.C.’s municipal elections.
According to a 2010 discussion paper by the B.C. government and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, there have been two types of corporate votes: one until 1973 and then another iteration between 1976 and 1993.
The corporate vote until 1973 was significantly different from the later vote. It allowed all corporations, regardless of corporate structure,” there were no residency restrictions so foreign-owned corporations could vote and there was an unrestricted number of votes so an individual could vote in relation to as many corporations as they owned.
The 1976 to 1993 vote, however, allowed for “one corporation, one vote,” so if a personal controlled more than one corporation in a municipality they could only register for one to vote and a person could not register their corporation if they resided in the same municipality.
Huberman told the Now-Leader the board has “always been supportive of bringing back the business vote,” but especially now “given the challenges of the pandemic and the economy.”
She said the board plans on “taking it directly to the B.C. government, as well as to the federal government.”
“For others to advance this, we need action now by the B.C. government.”
Huberman said businesses create jobs, adding the “economy is driven by private sector” and they give back to the community.
“But they cannot participate in the electoral process in decisions that are being made.
She added the board’s preference would be that a business’ vote would be tied to their business licence.
“If there’s two owners for that business, both owners should be able to vote. There are ways and means in which to make this fair and to ensure that the system of our elections are not compromised.”
However, Mayor Doug McCallum said he thinks “it’s just about a double vote for some people.”
“I mean, a lot of our business (owners) work in Surrey and live in Surrey and they have a vote through the voting mechanism,” he noted. “That’s not democratic — so I don’t support it in any way.”
Asked if his answer would be different if the business owners didn’t live in Surrey, McCallum said he would instead “encourage” them to move to the city.
“We do that. We encourage people to come live in our city and that’s why they have businesses.”
Meantime, the board is also calling for the voting age to be reduced to 16 years old.
Asked what connection being able to vote at age 16 has with business, Huberman replied the board is trying to ensure “that the future of our workforce, our future entrepreneurs are participating in the livability and the economy of our city, and of course in our province and nation.”
“They are participating in the economy, they are working,” Huberman added. “Many of our youth team members are running businesses but decisions are being made that are impacting their lives but they’re not able to participate in the electoral process. So this is really taken into consideration from the future of our economy and to take care of our future workforce and our future entrepreneurs.”
– With files from Tom Zytaruk