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BC’s ‘Wild West’ Political Fundraising Ends

Union, corporate donations banned; parties to get public subsidy.

By Andrew MacLeod 19 Sep 2017 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative bureau chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The B.C. government introduced legislation Monday to ban corporate and union donations to provincial political parties and cap individual donations at $1,200 per year.

The government’s legislation would also subsidize the province’s major political parties, transferring about $28 million to them over the next four years.

“Today we’re getting big money out of politics in British Columbia,” Premier John Horgan told reporters. “It’s time that people got into the centre of our politics, not people with deep pockets, but people. It’s time our elections were decided by voters, not by those with the most money in the kitty.”

“This bill is what we committed to pass,” he said. “This bill is what we campaigned on.”

Horgan did not take questions.

Before the May election, Horgan denied the NDP had a plan to subsidize political parties. The NDP had proposed a review chaired by the chief electoral officer to determine how to finance the political process.

The government’s bill includes a per vote subsidy of $2.50 in 2018, based on the results of the May election, declining to $1.75 in 2022. The BC Liberal Party and NDP would each receive just under $2 million next year and the BC Green Party would receive about $831,000.

Between the scheduled 2021 election the subsidy would transfer about $16.5 million to the three parties. The subsidies would end after five years, unless a legislative committee decides to continue them

The bill also says the major parties will also be reimbursed for 50 per cent of their eligible election expenses, which in 2021 would total an estimated $11 million.

Attorney General David Eby said the subsidies were necessary to help the parties transition to the new system. “We looked at a permanent per vote subsidy like Quebec, and rejected that model in favour of this transitional allowance,” he said.

The bill fulfills the NDP’s commitment to get big money out of politics and bars an estimated $65 million of expected donations between now and the next election, he said.

Eby also noted the Green Party’s role in developing the bill.

“No one party has the majority of seats,” he said. “I look forward to a healthy debate about all these provisions and I have no doubt that this temporary transitional allowance for parties will be a subject of debate in the legislature, and I think that’s the way it should be.”

The BC Liberals will vote against the money for political parties, said Andrew Wilkinson, MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena and justice critic. “Political parties should raise their own money and not turn to the taxpayer to pay for them,” he said. “It’s pretty clear the NDP have cut a deal with the Greens to get maximum favour for both of them.”

Wilkinson last week introduced a private member’s bill that would ban corporate and union donations and cap individual contributions at $5,000. He said the $1,200 figure in the government’s bill was arbitrary.

Introducing subsidies for political parties breaks an NDP campaign promise, he said. “The fact taxpayers will be asked to put out $28 million in subsidies to political parties is something we’ll be voting against.”

Speaking alongside Horgan, Green leader Andrew Weaver noted it’s been nearly a year since his party stopped accepting corporate and union donations. “The... influence of corporate and union donations has become a defining feature in our broken system of politics,” he said. “We now have a comprehensive plan in place that’s going to create a level playing field.”

The bill was a product of the Green Party’s “good faith and no-surprise consultations with the government,” he said, adding that the two parties began working on it months ago.

The Election Amendment Act, 2017 also says that donations already made that would not be allowed under the new rules can not be used for future elections.

British Columbia’s lax political donation laws received considerable attention in recent years, with the New York Times characterizing the province as the “Wild West” of campaign financing.

Ahead of the May election Elections BC handed an investigation into allegedly illegal donations over to the RCMP. The BC Liberals returned some $250,000 in contributions and the NDP returned about $11,000.

The NDP campaigned on getting big money out of politics. Its support for political finance reform was a key factor in winning the support of the Green Party that allowed it to form government.

At $1,200, the new cap on individual donations is the second lowest in Canada, behind only Quebec where the cap is $100. The bill also bans out-of-province donations, caps contributions to third-party advertisers and reduces campaign spending limits by 25 per cent.

Duff Conacher, the co-founder of the advocacy group Democracy Watch, said the contribution limit is too high.

“It will allow wealthy people to continue to use money as an unethical way to influence politicians and parties, and it will facilitate funnelling of donations from businesses and unions through their executives and employees and their family members,” he said by email. “It won't stop big money in B.C. politics, it will just hide it.”  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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