News / Vancouver

BC Liberals vow 'panel' on political donations—after the election

Premier Clark to review what critics call a 'system of legalized bribery,' three days after RCMP open criminal investigation. But only if she's re-elected May 9

Premier Christy Clark addresses a luncheon of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 in Vancouver.

David P. Ball / Metro

Premier Christy Clark addresses a luncheon of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 in Vancouver.

If she's re-elected on May 9, British Columbia's premier will launch an "independent panel" to review political donations in B.C. — which her critics call a "system of legalized bribery," the BC Liberals have told their supporters.

"Premier Christy Clark is expected to announce an independent panel to review BC's political financing system," wrote campaign director Laura Miller in an email to donors and supporters Monday. "The panel will convene every eight years to collect input from the public and political parties, and make recommendations for potential changes."

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But Clark's vow to examine the province's unlimited political donations, even from outside the province and country, wouldn't actually take effect until after a provincial election her BC Liberals are entering with a more-than $12-million war chest, and obviously only if her party is re-elected.

(Miller, who is the BC Liberals' executive director, is set to appear in a Toronto court Sept. 11, where she faces criminal charges of breach of trust and mischief over the alleged deletion of documents when she was deputy chief of staff to Ontario ex-premier Dalton McGuinty in 2011. She maintains her innocence.)

Clark's proposal for a commission hasn't been formally announced, but came three days after the RCMP launched a criminal investigation of allegations that corporate lobbyists were making political donations to the government, then being illegally reimbursed by their employers for them.

Chief Electoral Officer Keith Archer told Metro that making indirect donations as alleged “runs counter to the very foundation of our political contribution disclosure system, which is to make transparent who is contributing to the political parties here in B.C.,” he said in an interview last week.

On Friday, Elections BC handed over the investigation into the allegations to police in order to assure the public of their independence managing the May 9 election.

"This referral will also ensure that there is no perception that Elections BC’s ability to administer the general election in a fair, neutral and impartial manner is in any way compromised," Archer said in a statement Friday. "The potential scope and timing of this matter make the RCMP the most appropriate agency to continue this investigation."

The BC Liberals, in a statement last week, said it was "taking immediate steps to ensure all donors understand their legal obligations."

"Whenever we become aware of behaviour that contravenes the Election Act, we work with Elections BC to address it," the statement continued. "Remedies can include refunding or forfeiting donations."

Sgt. Annie Linteau, media relations officer for the RCMP in B.C., confirmed the force is investigating "allegations of indirect contributions and other potential contraventions of the Election Act."

The B.C. government has been under fire for political donations rules that are looser than in any other Canadian province. B.C. has no donation cap, allows donations from corporations and unions, and even from foreign donors.

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Last week, a Forum Research poll found that seven-in-ten British Columbians want to ban corporate and union donations, the allegations add fuel to longstanding criticism of what Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher told Metro “amounts to a system of legalized bribery” in a province that’s “one of the worst, one of the most undemocratic and unethical political donation systems of anywhere in Canada.

“B.C. has very few rules. Here we have clear example of those rules being broken … They’re trying to hide their influence on the government.”

The BC Liberals' so-called "cash-for-access" exclusive fundraisers are also facing criticism for allowing high-paying donors to access Cabinet ministers, the Premier and politicians face-to-face without donors having to declaring their lobbying attempts publicly as normally required.

The government has insisted such fundraisers do not influence its policies, even though donors at such events have later been awarded billions of taxpayer-funded contracts. Premier Clark received at least $300,000 since taking office as a BC Liberal stipend, at $50,000 annually, on top of her $190,000-a-year public salary. After that came under scrutiny, Clark announced she would no longer collect the top-up.

“Our system is based on a fair and simple principle: parties compete for financial support from those who share their values, just like they compete for votes,” said BC Liberal campaign co-chair Todd Stone, B.C. transport minister, in a statement on the party's website. “… Our voluntary real-time reporting of donations, in addition to strict spending limits on parties during campaigns, means that citizens can have confidence in our democracy."

with files from Jen St. Denis and the Toronto Star

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