The British Columbia Liberal Party has begun releasing information early about donations it receives, a move the NDP dismissed as a gimmick.
“What we’re doing is proactively and voluntarily moving towards real-time reporting of donations so that within 10 business days, any donation that’s received by our office will be available for the media and the public to scrutinize,” said Emile Scheffel, the director of communications for the BC Liberals.
The party on Friday afternoon posted to its website a list of its donations for 2016, which would not usually be submitted to Elections BC until March 31, as well as donations from the first 10 days of January.
“We sense there’s a public appetite for more information about who’s funding political parties and how, so this is an effort to accommodate that by allowing people to have the transparency of knowing who’s giving how much and when they’re giving it,” said Scheffel.
Jodie Wickens, the NDP MLA for Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, said her party will not be matching the Liberals on voluntary disclosure, which she called an attempt by Premier Christy Clark to distract people from the real issue of how much influence big donors have on the government.
“It’s not going to do anything to clean up B.C. politics,” Wickens said. “I think she came up with this as a gimmick because she’s been under so much pressure to ban corporate and union donations.”
The NDP has previously introduced private member’s bills that would have banned corporate and union donations to provincial political parties, but the BC Liberal majority government has failed to support those bills, she said.
Wickens said her party will reintroduce such a bill when the legislature resumes sitting in February. “If [Clark] really wants to do something meaningful, she should pass that before the election,” she said.
The BC Green Party announced in September that it would no longer accept donations from corporations and unions, a move observers noted was a small sacrifice since the party received little such support anyway.
Scheffel said besides competing for votes, parties compete for donations from people who share their values.
“That’s how we pay for the things it takes to engage voters,” he said. “What we don’t want to see as a free enterprise party is a system of public financing of political parties, where you would have money coming off people’s paycheques subsidizing political parties that those people would never necessarily vote for, so we prefer the system we have today.”
According to the list the BC Liberals posted, major donations so far in 2017 include $100,000 from Goldcorp Inc., $25,000 from Canadian Forest Products Ltd., $25,000 from West Fraser Mills Ltd., $25,000 from Encana Corp. founding CEO Gwyn Morgan, and $20,000 from the Independent Contractors & Businesses Association of BC.
The 319-page list of donations from 2016 includes $250,000 from property developer Peter Redekop, $200,000 from John Redekop Construction, $200,000 from 2300 Kingsway Residences, and $128,650 from mining company Teck Resources Ltd.
Meanwhile on Friday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck heard arguments on whether to dismiss a request from the advocacy group Democracy Watch to quash decisions that B.C.’s conflict of interest commissioner Paul Fraser made in 2016 finding Clark didn’t contravene the Conflict of Interest Act by receiving $50,000 annually from the BC Liberals while fundraising at exclusive party events where attendees paid as much as $20,000. Affleck reserved his decision.
Read more: BC Politics