Opinion: I slogged through the Burnaby bureaucracy for 6 measly numbers

Chris Campbell

The City of Burnaby emailed me some figures on Wednesday detailing how much it cost to hold the 2018 elections for mayor, council and school board.

That sounds like a simple thing, but it actually took approximately eight months to get these figures sent to me. The process shows what frustrates people so much about dealing with government.

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But first, the figures.

I wanted them to highlight what it costs in order for citizens to have their say. I think that is a valuable exercise to remind people, especially those who are too lazy to vote, what is involved in democracy.

The city provided the total elections cost for both 2014 and 2018.

In 2018, it cost the city $1,009,098.32 in total costs, which is actually down from the $1,048,560.98 (perhaps they got a discount on voter cards) spent in 2014. By contrast, the City of Vancouver spent $4.1 million, which is $1.2 million more than the vote in 2014. So, somehow, Burnaby managed to keep a lid on its costs.

The 2018 breakdown is this:

Software (data fix): $87,312

Hardware (tabulators): $95,947.03

Voter cost and candidate information packages (postage and print): $141,041.65

Staff costs – advance polling and day-of-polls: $190,104.18

Other expenditures (compensation, supplies, etc): $494,693.46

Yes, it costs a lot of money to put on an election, but that’s the price to be paid for democracy.

It’s not the most detailed breakdown. One area I think the city can spend even more money on are promotional materials to advertise the election. I would love to see a far-bigger campaign in a few years to rally people to get out and vote. But that’s just me.

While I was disappointed there wasn’t more of a detailed breakdown of the numbers, such as “other expenditures” I’ll take what I can get.

As I said, it took eight months to get these few numbers.

Let me back things up to January of this year when I read an article in the NOW’s sister paper the Tri-Cities News showing the elections costs for Coquitlam, Port Moody and Port Coquitlam.

I was directed to a city official who I was told could provide these figures. I emailed the request, saying that these other three city cities has supplied the numbers so we’d like them to.

There was some back and forth and I was told that instead of just sending me the numbers – like the city did this week – I would have to “wait” until a formal report was submitted to council.

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Now, I was puzzled because I had evidence that these other cities were providing this information, which the public has a right to know. But, I decided to wait for the report to appear before council.

Week after week, month after month went by and no report appeared. I emailed again to see what was happening and was told a report was still pending.

It never appeared. I emailed during the summer and was then told that now there would be no report coming on the election costs, but if I emailed again with details on what I needed, this city staffer could get me the numbers.

So I emailed. Then I received a response – IN THE MAIL!- dated Aug. 20 saying that a “request for access to records” had been filed. I was told the request had been forwarded to the finance department.

Then, on Sept. 11, I received the numbers via email.

You just can’t make this stuff up. First, the city actually spent money to mail me a two-page letter. Second, if all I needed to do was file an FOI, the city should have told me that in the first place and I would have done that back in January.

Bureaucracies, man, I tell ya…

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.

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