CBC Nova Scotia’s Halifax election financing database: lessons learned

Do you know how many of the donations to winning candidates in the 2012 Halifax municipal election came from companies “involved in development?”

Do you know how much money your district councillor received from this dog’s breakfast of “involved” developers, construction companies and real estate firms, each with self-interests in sundry proposals, projects and permits that may affect your neighbourhood and your city, which will ultimately be voted on by the people you elect — and they pay for?

I do.

Thanks to a CBC Nova Scotia news investigation and its accompanying burrow-down-the-data interactive database, I now know development-related corporate donations totalled a stunning one-third or more of all campaign funds received by 10 of Halifax’s 16 municipal councillors. Four councillors, in fact, raked in more than half of their elect-me budgets from the development industry’s verdant lawns.

There are a couple of lessons here.

The first, most obvious one is that we need legislation to control how much anyone — especially those with vested interests in council’s decisions — can donate to wannabe municipal politicians.

In February, council agreed to ask staff for a report on reforming what is currently an essentially  lawless, limitless world of municipal campaign financing.

That report is expected in June.

But thanks to the CBC’s work in making the information easily accessible and searchable, we can ferret out the information we need as citizens to better understand the issue, and ask the right questions of staff and our elected representatives.

That’s the second lesson. We still need journalism — especially publicly funded, public interest journalism  — to do the hard  work to make sense of our world.

No other current news organization has the mandate — or had the resources — to do the kind of digging, public service journalism the CBC  consistently does.

Or did.

Last month, the CBC eliminated 11 more positions in Nova Scotia. Across the network, 140 jobs in local news operations disappeared. By 2020, the public broadcaster says it will shed 1,000-1,500 more people.

The world isn’t getting simpler. It’s getting more complicated. We need more, not fewer journalists.

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