Christy Clark campaigns in Vancouver: the B.C. Liberals raised more money than some federal parties. (B.C. Broadcast Consortium)

Getting ‘big money’ out of B.C. politics

It’s not as simple as banning corporate, union donations

We’ve just seen the last B.C. election where “big money” rampages across the B.C. political landscape, unrestrained by rules or common decency. Or have we?

Pressure to reform the “wild west” of Canadian politics reached an all-time high leading up to this election.

The B.C. Liberals raked in $13 million in 2016, more than some federal parties, in the province notorious for having no limit to personal, corporate or union donations. Real estate developers, resource industries and hospitality companies led the way.

The B.C. NDP lagged behind in fundraising, but going into the election they managed to scoop the largest single donation in the province’s history, more than $650,000 from the United Steelworkers and various locals. It then emerged that the party’s top campaign managers were being paid directly by the U.S.-based union.

The B.C. Liberal riches became more embarrassing when it was learned that lobbyists were being pressured into buying tables at fundraising dinners, then charging the costs back to their corporate clients. This violates Elections BC rules, because it conceals the true source of the donations.

The B.C. Liberals ended up returning nearly $60,000 in improperly reported donations, dating back to 2011, and revising their annual financial reports going back to 2005 to correct the sources of another $40,000.

The NDP unearthed a couple of improperly reported donations from last year worth $790, which was also returned.

Right up to the formal start of the campaign, both B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark and NDP leader John Horgan offered exclusive access to themselves for those who paid thousands of dollars to pitch whatever they were pitching to the next potential premier.

The logic of finance reform seems simple enough. Support for political parties should come only from individual eligible voters, and there should be a reasonable limit so wealthy people don’t have outsized influence.

I’ve advocated for this change for many years, as it was being grudgingly adopted by successive federal governments. But it’s not that simple.

Elections B.C. lists more than 250 “third party advertisers” that registered for the 2017 campaign. As usual, the list is dominated by teacher union locals and other labour groups, with a sprinkling of environmental groups and corporate interests from mining suppliers to breweries.

Some seem to be genuine grassroots outfits. For example, Fernie-based Citizens Concerned About Bill Bennett can probably stand down now that their long-time MLA has retired from politics. The Terrace Yacht Club seems innocent enough as well.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson jumped into the provincial election early, which the former NDP MLA is perfectly entitled to do. But at what point does his staff support from city hall constitute an election expense?

And one of Robertson’s communications staff served in a senior role with the NDP campaign. Is that a generous gesture by an individual who took time off to pitch in, or an in-kind donation?

A Facebook page called B.C. Proud was set up, running anti-NDP attack ads warning of job losses, BC Hydro and natural gas rate increases in a Horgan administration. Another outfit calling itself Future Prosperity for B.C. popped up, running “Say Anything John” ads that sound like they’re created by the B.C. Liberal Party.

In direct donations, the B.C. Liberals decided to brazen it out for one more election and then turn the issue of campaign finance over to an independent review. Such a review would look at federal donation restrictions and also at Ontario, where not long ago the ruling provincial Liberals were setting fundraising quotas for cabinet ministers.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

UPDATED: Okanagan Mountain Park fire forces evacuation alert

Properties from 6006 to 8888 Lakeshore Road are being placed on an evacuation alert

Carrot Mountain fire fans smoke over West Kelowna

A cluster of three fires are burning above West Kelowna

Complete list of B.C. Interior wildfire coverage

Up-to-date information on blazes happening the Kamloops Wildfire Centre

UPDATED: Highway 97 closed again due to wildfire

Motorists may use an alternate route via Highway 97C, Highway 5A and Highway 3

Two fires caused by lightning at Big White last night

The fires are currently being contained

Breaking: More evacuation orders for Mount Eneas wildfire, south of Peachland

The BC Wildfire Service is battling a large wildfire alongside Highway 97 in Peachland.

Fire in backcountry near Keremeos reaches 400 hectares in size

Two significant fires are burning in the Lower Similkameen, smoke can be seen as far away as Osoyoos

Update: Summerland wildfire forces PIB state of emergency

More than 40 firefighters are on scene of the wildfire near Mount Conkle, just outside of Summerland.

Hockey trip fraudster receives house arrest

Man duped 16 families with Okanagan Elite Hockey Association out of over $100,000

Four wild fires still burning near Keremeos

One fire was extinguished and another reported after lightning came through area

‘Amazing Race Canada’ competitors face B.C. challenge

They drove Corvettes, mastered falconry basics, and ate blueberry pie in the Cowichan Valley

Installers to battle Team B.C.

Exhibition men’s fastball Saturday in Vernon

Grizzly bear jumps in river, chases B.C. kayaker

The bear got a bit too close for comfort along the Elaho River near Squamish

Parks Canada looks to shine light on cloudy future for historic sites

A plan is in place to produce 10-year plans designed to turn around sagging attendance figures

Most Read