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A Citizen Takes on BC’s ‘Wild West’ Campaign Financing

Grassroots online initiative encourages public to tell politicians unlimited contributions must end now.

By Joanne Pearce 22 Apr 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Joanne Pearce is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

“It’s time to make your vote count more than their cash” – Call4Change

False Creek resident Tomoko Kawaguchi is tired of seeing money corrupt British Columbia’s politics. She’s made it her mission to stop it.

Since January, Kawaguchi has worked on Call4Change, a non-partisan, grassroots initiative that aims to “ban corporate and union donations, and set a cap on individual donations.”

By now it’s well documented — by the New York Times and many others — how B.C.’s lack of limits on political donations make the province a “Wild West” when it comes to campaign financing.

The issue is at the root of a number of scandals, with the Globe and Mail recently uncovering that some lobbyists have received illegal reimbursements for their donations to political parties.

For many, enough is enough. A recent Forum Research poll found about 70 per cent of B.C. voters are in favour of banning corporate and union donations and limiting individual contributions.

The BC Liberals have continuously dismissed calls for a ban on union and corporate donations, although as scandals mounted, leader Christy Clark promised a panel to review the current system and make non-binding recommendations.

Both the NDP and Greens have promised to ban union and corporate donations if elected. The Green Party, however, is the only one to have not accepted corporate or union donations this election.

A call for change

Among the voices calling for change is Kawaguchi, a woman who passionately wants to challenge the corruption status quo.

“Last December, I went to a town hall meeting in the West End [in Vancouver], and everybody was complaining about the housing situation, or rent situation, or transportation,” says Kawaguchi. “And I realized, every single issue goes back to the same cause, same root cause, same problem, which is that big money is influencing the government, not our voices influencing government, which is not OK.”

The idea behind Call4Change came later after reading the New York Times article that described B.C. as the “Wild West.”

Angered and remembering that she’d read that elected officials can easily ignore emails but not phone calls, Kawaguchi decided to act.

With no experience in creating websites, Kawaguchi reached out to someone she’d met at a civic event on development permits, a person she thought might be able to help.

“I sent a cold email saying, ‘Do you remember me? I was at some event,’ and he actually responded and remembered me,” says Kawaguchi. “And he said ‘OK, let’s have a coffee.’ And that person introduced another person and then another person introduced another person, and finally we could reach the person with the right skills who could develop a website. I have no idea how this coding thing works, to me it’s amazing, but the person could manage and develop the website so I was really lucky.”

The instructions to use the site are simple. Typing in their postal code, users get the phone numbers, if they are publicly available, of the candidates in their riding and a short script they can choose to follow that explains why they are calling.

The script declares the caller is voting “only for candidates and parties who officially commit to a complete ban on union and corporate political donations, with a strict limit on individual donations.”

It concludes, “Will you please count this call as a vote for a total ban on union and corporate donations and for a firm limit on individual donations?”

Afterwards, users can record whether they called or left a message and move on to the next candidate. Each riding will have, on average, five candidates to call.

Difficulties in enacting change

While confident Call4Change has the ability to make a difference, Kawaguchi says she has also learned the difficulties of making such change a reality.

“It’s really difficult to make people take action,” says Kawaguchi. “It’s really not easy, I found that. I learned. It’s a hard learning. But at the same time, I’ve met a lot of young people… and I didn’t know much about them but I have a really positive feeling now, and a lot of people are really talented and they care, and I feel very hopeful now. I feel that it’s worth it to go through this process.”

Kawaguchi’s goal for her election finance reform campaign is to get 500 phone calls by May 9.

She acknowledges that, at least for this election, the system won’t change — but she’s emphatic on the importance of speaking up by picking up the phone.

“Using your voice. You feel like you are engaged,” she says. “That’s really important you feel that way.”  [Tyee]

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