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Top Donors Thrive under BC Liberals

Mining, timber and construction corporations enriched by policy changes.

By Scott Deveau 14 Apr 2005 | TheTyee.ca
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The corporations who gave the most money to the Liberals have clearly benefited from policy shifts made since the 2001 election, say campaign finance watchdogs.

Since 1996, 69 percent of the nearly $42 million donated to the B.C. Liberals came from the corporate and business sector, according to BCFacts.org, a group with ties to the environmental community.

The BC Liberals’ largest donors are companies in the forestry, mining, and development sectors. All of these sectors have been amply rewarded for their loyalty to the B.C. Liberals, critics argue.

Despite numerous requests by The Tyee, the BC Liberals were not available for comment.

Enviro regs trimmed for mining

Teck Cominco, a massive B.C. mining company worth more than $3 billion in the province, is the B.C. Liberal’s top donor since 1996, giving nearly $750,000 to the Grits.

Greg Waller, director of investor relations for Teck Cominco, said it’s a matter of “corporate responsibility” to donate to political parties.

“It’s to help in the political process because political parties need money to fund their election campaigns,” Waller said. However, it seems Teck Cominco is not interested in promoting every campaign. The company made no donation to the NDP.

Waller said Teck Cominco expected nothing in return for its donations to the B.C. Liberal party. But with commodity prices soaring and the growth the mining company has experienced over the past four years, the company recorded its highest earnings ever last year of $669 million, up from 89 million in 2001, according the company’s 2004 annual report.

“The industry is in a very healthy position,” Waller said and it is providing lots of “good, high-paying, family-supporting jobs,” he added.

Joan Kuyek , national director of MiningWatch Canada, said more than rising commodity prices that has helped the industry over the past four years.

“(Teck Cominco) and the rest of the industry is really pushing the provincial government and the Federal Department of Fisheries as hard as they can to get projects approved with minimal intervention,” Kuyek said. The industry has been successful, she added.

The mining sector’s lobbying efforts resulted in amendments to the Environmental Assessment Act, removing requirements for sustainable development. The changes have also helped clear the way for several major mining projects in the process, including the Tulsequah Chief, the Kemess North, Galore Creek, and Red Chris mines, she said.

“It’s really quite dramatic what they’ve done,” Kuyek said, though she was also quick to point out Teck Cominco is “no worse than anyone else” in the mining industry.

The provincial government also put $91 million aside in B.C.’s budget for the clean up of abandoned mine sites.

“Which is good,” she said, “except the mining company should be paying for it.”

Major changes to forest laws

In addition to Teck Cominco, three of the B.C. Liberal’s top-five donors are from the forestry industry: Canadian Forest Products Ltd., West Fraser Timbre Co. Ltd., and Weldwood of Canada. In total the group donated roughly $930,000 to the party since 1996.

The latter two, West Fraser and Weldwood, merged at the end of 2004, and have seen a steady increase in sales, despite the softwood lumber dispute.

Jessica Clogg, staff council at West Coast Environmental Law, said the merger itself is a byproduct of the benefits the forest industry received over the past four years.

Part of the amendments made to the Forest Act and the Forest Protection Code removed the need for Ministry of Forest consent on tenure transfers, which virtually eliminated the minister’s ability to insert conditions on transfers, Clogg said. Those conditions were normally used to protect the interest of First Nations, she added.

As a matter of policy, when timber tenures in the past changed hands or there was a corporate merger involving a company that had timber tenures, there would always be public hearings.

“That will no longer be the case,” Clogg said.

But these changes merely scrape the surface of the changes to the industry, Clogg said.

“Virtually every aspect of forestry environmental laws in B.C. have been repealed or rewritten since the Liberal’s came into power,” Clogg said.

The process leading up to the Forest Act amendments was a closed door industry/government process under the auspices of the B.C. Lumber and Trade council, Clogg said. That spun off a series of industry/government working groups that proposed amendments, many of which were subsequently implemented, she added.

Firms ‘write their own rules’

The amendments also eliminated the requirement for companies to operate mills, and licenses are replaced every 10 years now instead of five, which again impedes upon the ministry’s ability to place conditions on the land.

“Changes to the forest practices code are essentially an industry wish list in terms of companies being allowed to write their own rules,” Clogg said. “Although there was official public process around changes to the forest practices code, none of the directions from non-industry folks ended up being incorporated.”

There’s no longer ministry approval for site level plans and there has been massive reductions in front-line staff to enforce the laws that are in place, Clogg said.

“This provincial government has made it extremely clear that their goal is to increase certainty for industry at the expense of communities and the environment,” Clogg said.

Anti-union contractors gave big

Rounding out the top-five BC Liberal donors is the International Contractors and Businesses Association. The lobbying organization for the open shop construction industry gave the Liberals more than $260,000 since 1996.

Jesse Uppal of the Federation of Labour said the ICBA’s involvement with the Liberal party is more ideological than anything else.

Like the Social Credit before it, the ICBA has a history of contributing to conservative parties, Uppal said.

However, changes to the labour code, the gutting of the apprenticeship programs, and cutbacks in the Workers Compensation Board and for WCB onsite inspectors were all policies supported by the ICBA. The NDP took in $3,817,000 in donation in 2004. The BC Federation of Labour gave more than $135,000 to the party last year, and since 2001, the BC Fed has donated nearly half a million dollars to the NDP.

But since 1996, labour donations account for less than 10 per cent the NDP’s total donations. The large majority of NDP donations, 87 per cent, have come from individual donors.

The NDP platform pledges to eliminate corporate and union donations in BC, which would bring the provincial system in-line with the federal. Similar legislation has been adopted in other provinces, like Manitoba, and caps have come into affect in others like Ontario.

The BC Liberals have set no such priorities.

Scott Deveau is on staff at The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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