British Columbia Premier Christy Clark admits she received more than $300,000 that the NDP says came from donors to the BC Liberal Party she leads.
In a letter to conflict of interest commissioner Paul Fraser, Vancouver-Point Grey MLA David Eby alleges the party is "laundering" the donations before they are given to Clark, failing to hide a "reprehensible activity" that has had a big financial benefit for the premier.
Fraser is already investigating complaints from Eby and from the Ottawa watchdog group Democracy Watch about fundraising at private dinner parties where guests are charged to attend events where they get access to Clark.
"The Premier's share of these donations may as well be passed directly to the Premier by the attendees of her parties in an envelope at the beginning of the evening," Eby wrote in his April 27 letter to Fraser. "This conduct is outrageous, incredibly problematic, and directly contrary to the public interest."
Eby also wrote that Clark's pay from the BC Liberals fluctuates each year depending on how successful the party's fundraising efforts are, but government and Liberal officials denied that allegation.
Every year since Clark became premier in 2011, a job with a salary of $195,000 a year, her public financial disclosure has said that she also receives income from the BC Liberal Party. Those disclosures did not specify amounts.
$50,000 car allowance?
In 2012, Clark told The Tyee the stipend from the party was "a car allowance" and that she didn't know how much it was.
Today, following a column about the stipend in The Globe and Mail, her spokesperson Ben Chin said he had confirmed with the BC Liberal Party that Clark has received $301,900 from the party since 2011. The figure for 2012 was $44,900 and it rose to $50,000 by 2015.
"I think it was always disclosed as the leader's allowance," Clark said today when The Tyee asked in a news conference if she'd been correct to say the money was a car allowance. "When I took over as leader it was informally called the leader's car allowance around the office."
During question period in the legislature, Clark said the stipend was not a secret and that her focus is on raising the standard of living for British Columbians throughout the province.
"It has been the longstanding practice of the BC Liberal Party to provide our leader with a stipend," party spokesperson Jillian Stead said in an email. "This practice pre-dates the current administration and goes back at least a decade, if not longer."
Deputy Premier Rich Coleman defended the party paying Clark. "It's also been pretty common that the leaders have some sort of stipend, because it's like having two jobs and they spend probably 70 or 80 hours a week working," he told reporters. "It's a job that's basically two jobs in one."
Former Liberal premier Gordon Campbell also received a stipend, Coleman said. "I know Gord used to get a car allowance or a lease or whatever the case may be from the party. That was pretty much the standard practice."
Premier out of touch, says Horgan
NDP leader John Horgan said it would be up to Fraser to rule on whether or not BC Liberal Party fundraising methods put Clark in a conflict.
"I believe it's very difficult to get away from the obvious conflict between being charged with asking people to give you large sums of money that then are funnelled to the BC Liberal Party, and then a portion of which comes back in the form of a salary or a top-up or an allowance,” he said.
Many people in B.C. are struggling, Horgan said, noting the province has the lowest minimum wage and that many have trouble affording high costs for housing and other necessities.
"I think for the public, when they hear that their premier at $200,000 a year is given another $50,000 a year to top-up her salary, that is out of touch for regular people," he said. "The average salary in British Columbia is $50,000 a year. The premier gets that in a stipend. If she's having trouble making ends meet, imagine how regular people feel."
A recent Insights West poll found over 80 per cent of British Columbians want big donations banned from provincial politics, a position the NDP supports, Horgan said.
"The issue here is the disconnect between the political class that is being funded largely by big donors -- whether they be unions, wealthy individuals or corporations -- and the rest of us," said Horgan. "The rest of us I think are getting sick of this."
Read more: BC Politics