Report from Clerk doesn't recommend a Campaign Contribution Rebate Program

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

July 7th, 2021



Running for office with little in the way of a community profile is very hard – but it can be done.

Running for office with little in the way of money is very very hard – but it can be done.

At the federal level there is a tax break for those who donate to an election campaign. A portion of a donation can be deducted from your income tax return.

City Clerk will oversee the municipal election and sign the document that makes the winners official.

Former City Clerk Angela Morgan signs the document that makes the election results official.

There is, at this point, nothing similar at the municipal level, however the Municipal Act permits a municipality to put one in place.  The Clerk sent Council a report that was discussed at considerable length earlier this week.

Campaign Contribution Rebate Program
The Act provides, but does not mandate, municipalities to pass a by-law to provide rebates to individuals who contributed to a Council candidate’s election campaign.

Rebates are funded through the general revenues of a municipality, in other words rebates would be a tax supported expense.

Municipal campaign contributions are not eligible for income tax rebates, as contributions to Provincial or Federal candidates.

The principle purpose of the program is to encourage participation in municipal elections by reducing the financial burden placed on candidates and campaign donors. A rebate program requires candidates to issue receipts to donors who would then apply for a rebate from the City.

Clerk Arjoon

City Clerk Kevin Arjoon – understands the procedural process exceptionally well.

Rebates would only be processed after the election, and after a candidate files their financial statements in compliance with the Act. Participation in the contribution rebate program by candidates is voluntary. A contribution rebate program enables a municipality to reimburse contributions made by individuals to a campaign of a candidate seeking election for Mayor or Councillor. A number of municipalities have implemented a contribution rebate program including the Cities of Ottawa, Toronto, Mississauga, Markham, Vaughan, Whitby, Ajax and Oakville.

The criteria for eligibility and rebate formulas varies between municipalities. Likewise, the rebate payout amounts will vary greatly.

A municipal survey was conducted specifically to determine the collective scope and financial impact of contribution rebate programs across Ontario for the 2018 Municipal Election. The results of the survey (there were less than 300 people responding) will be set out in a separate news report.

Several factors should be considered prior to establishing a campaign contribution rebate program including:

Eligibility criteria for candidates to participate in the program
Whether it only applies to Mayor and Councillor candidates
Eligibility criteria for contributors
Whether the program should be limited to only residents of Burlington or open to all residents of Ontario
Minimum contribution amounts
A minimum contribution amount is required to be eligible for the program
Formula for rebate
Whether the formula should be consistent for all contributions or vary depending on the amount of the contribution Maximum rebate amounts


Marianne Meed Ward filing her nomination papers for the 2014  municipal election while husband Pete photographs the occasion.

A maximum rebate amount should be set
Administrative policies and procedures
Whether a candidate should be required to file an audited financial statement in order to be eligible for the program
Whether candidates must register in the program at the time of filing their nomination
Candidates requirement to keep meticulous records of all contributions received
The deadline to file all records and receipts with the City Clerk’s Office
Internal staffing resources required to support the program throughout the election period (before, during and after the election)

Administering a contribution rebate program will require staff resources for program administration, including analyzing financial statements, determining the eligibility of an application for rebate, and processing payment

Clerk Arjoon aghast

City Clerk Kevin Arjoon – surprised at a comment made.

Financial impact on Election program and budget
Residents were asked to rate their understanding of how a campaign contribution rebate program works, with 9% responding they had an excellent understanding of the program, and 27% responding they had a good understanding of the program. The majority of the residents therefore indicated they did not have a good understanding of such a program.

Of the 287 contributors for the question, 276 responded whether or not they support for establishing a program.
61% reported they are not supportive of the program, and 39% reported they are supportive.

Reasons for not supporting the program cited include:
A contribution is a contribution and should not be regarded as a way to get a rebate;
It’s taxpayer subsidized;
It sounds very complicated and unnecessary;
Responsibility should be up to the candidate to rally support. The municipalities have greater need for the funds;
There are other ways for people to support candidates.
Needs more transparency, major contributors (and the individuals most likely to benefit from this rebate) are corporate entities/developers/construction firms;
I don’t like that it’s funded through the general revenues of the municipality;
Added cost to administer;
The city should not be involved in the election campaign at all;
We don’t have enough money as it is;
There are higher budget priorities;
Contributes in favour of candidates supported by wealthy voters;
Tax dollars could be going to someone for whom tax payers did not vote.

Reasons for supporting the program cited include:
It removes the financial barrier which definitely negatively affects individuals participating in the election process and increases participation;
A good idea to promote contributions;
Support but consider minimum and maximum values.
Many people think they already get a tax rebate for municipal, because they do for federal/provincial. This would allow consistency with other levels of government and help fundraising, especially for residents who can’t fully fund their own campaigns.

At this time staff is not recommending a campaign contribution rebate program as it’s administratively burdensome and has not definitively demonstrated that it has a greater impact on voter turnout or the number of candidates. Based on the jurisdictional scan, using Oakville as a direct comparator, the program could have a budget impact of approximately $100,000 (just issuing rebates to Burlington residents) which equates to about 20% of the current election budget.

If approved, the cost to administer this program and the rebate amounts would be applied to the tax base and result in a 2022 budget impact. In addition, it is recognized that school board elections are the avenue where many may enter as first-time political candidates. Creating a by-law will benefit Council and Mayoral candidates, which may create inequities with the school board candidates. Should Council wish to explore the possibility of establishing a contribution rebate program for the City of Burlington, it may direct staff to report back with options related to the above considerations.

The Mayor loved the idea – other members of council were a little more hesitant.

More on this when we publish the results of the 20 question survey that less than 300 people responded to – that is not a number on which policy should be based.

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1 comment to Report from Clerk doesn’t recommend a Campaign Contribution Rebate Program

  • Of course the Mayor is in favour – she spent over $100,000 last election as did Goldring. Anne on the other hand spent less than $800 of our own money (we never accept donations) when running for Regional Chair (obtaining over 40,000 votes) averaging $200 for Burlington votes and obtaining more Burlington votes than did Goldring There was no opportunity for her debating skills to be heard as Carr refused to debate. There are many of us who object to the provincial and federal rebate, particularly as it is more than the rebate for charitable donations. Taxpayers should not have to pay for the election campaign of those we do not want elected.