News / Vancouver

‘Beyond coincidence’: Top B.C. political donors gave $56M, got $15B

B.C. Liberal donors netted taxpayers’ billions, new book reveals, but Premier says pork-barreling accusations “not accurate.”

B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark tours FibreCo in North Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 27, 2017. According to Elections B.C., the company and its directors have donated nearly $50,000 to the B.C. Liberals since 2005.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark tours FibreCo in North Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 27, 2017. According to Elections B.C., the company and its directors have donated nearly $50,000 to the B.C. Liberals since 2005.

A British Columbia watchdog has published an e-book identifying a group of top industry donors to the B.C. Liberals who donated $56 million to the party over 12 years — and raked in many times that in contracts, at least $15 billion of taxpayers’ money.

The 197-page book, May I Take Your Order, Please?, digs into public data behind B.C.’s lax rules on gifts to politicians and parties — allowing unlimited donations even from outside Canada.

The book examined what author Dermod Travis, executive director of Integrity B.C., has labeled the “$100,000 Club,” a group of 177 top B.C. Liberal donors — the most generous from the real estate, forestry, oil and gas, and construction sectors.

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According to Travis, few British Columbians have connected the dots between donations and what he argued many donors get in return, such as government contracts, board appointments, and tax breaks.

“Pork barreling is in essence what the government can do for donors to its political party,” he told Metro in a phone interview. “A whole bunch of industries gave exceptional donations to the B.C. Liberals, and got exceptional returns.

“It’s become very clear — when you start looking at all the sweetheart deals, the tally of supplier payments and infrastructure projects — that this is beyond coincidence; this is pork barreling. It’s the government taking care of its friends.”

The watchdog group describes itself as “a non-partisan non-profit organization dedicated to help restore a bond built on trust and confidence between citizens and their elected officials.”

The B.C. Liberals received $13.1 million in 2016. That was more than double the NDP's $6.2 million in donations, and the Greens' $0.8 million last year.

At a campaign stop Tuesday, Premier Christy Clark called the Travis’ allegations of a connection between donors and contracts “not accurate,” telling reporters at a press conference that the NDP have made similar claims and, “I don’t think that they have an interest in speaking the truth about it,” Clark replied to a question from CTV News. “It isn’t true.”

The B.C. Liberals have drawn attention to more than $650,000 the NDP got from the United Steelworkers last year, a U.S. based international union with roughly 40,000 members in Western Canada. And if they're re-elected on May 9, Clark has vowed to require faster reporting by all parties, and to create a political financing committee to make recommendations for reform.

Groups like Integrity B.C. and Democracy Watch — which has called the province’s political financing rules outdated and a “system of legalized bribery” — want the province to ban union and corporate donations outright, but Clark said her party’s donations were different from the NDP’s.

“It is not the same,” Clark told reporters as she criticized the NDP’s own donors. “Everybody takes donations, but the thing is, does the donation change your decision?”

Travis said there’s one big difference: The B.C. Liberals, in power for 16 years, are the only ones actually able to do anything about the issue.

“The only person left in denial in all B.C.,” Travis quipped, “would seem to be the Premier.”

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