News / Vancouver

Desperate Liberals change tune on welfare and campaign donations

While the B.C. Liberals play political games, poverty and campaign donation reform advocates also see a chance to "break through that narrative."

Christy Clark speaks to reporters in Vancouver following the May 9 provincial election.

The Canadian Press

Christy Clark speaks to reporters in Vancouver following the May 9 provincial election.

“It demonstrates you can have a conversion on the road to Damascus. It’s good they’ve finally seen the light, but the devil’s going to be in the details.”

It seems government watchdog Dermod Travis can’t stop using biblical metaphors to describe an abrupt about-face executed by the BC Liberals. The party that once flatly refused to ban corporate and union donations and left welfare rates frozen for 10 years now says it will introduce changes to both in an upcoming throne speech.

“It’s pretty odd because we’ve asked very directly, would you raise welfare rates, and the answer was no,” said Adrienne Montani, provincial co-ordinator for First Call B.C.

The move was not entirely unexpected: the BC Liberals are struggling to hold on to power after winning 43 seats. The NDP and Green have formed a coalition to govern with a slim combined majority of 44 seats, and are expected to vote against the throne speech to bring down the Liberal government.

“The speech from the throne is going to be every opposition party’s wish list,” said Travis, who has doggedly exposed B.C.’s anything-goes campaign finance rules, which are laxer than most other jurisdictions in North America.

“It’s designed that way so they look bad voting against it, but it also boxes any potential new government in. They’ve set (a) $100 a month (increase) for social assistance, and the finance bill as well: you might put some meat on that in the speech from the throne that is really designed not because you want to do it, but because you want to put your opponents in a spot that’s difficult for them to get out of.”

While the B.C. Liberals are playing political games, Travis and Montani see an opening as well: if the Liberals do end up forming government, the advocates plan to hold them to their word.

“If for some reason they remain in government, they’d have to run on this, or risk looking like real hypocrites,” Montani said, adding poverty reduction groups agree a $100 increase is not adequate to address the impact of freezing welfare at 2007 rates, and a real poverty reduction strategy would include increasing minimum wage and providing more childcare as well.

“It breaks through that narrative they’ve been working on for a long time, which is that we just need to get everybody off income assistance and get them a really good job.”

On campaign finance, Travis said he’s waiting to see “what kind of cap they may be envisioning on individual donations and what measure’s they’re going to take to make sure there aren’t any obvious loopholes in legislation that corporations and unions can use to get around a ban.”

Spending limits are also something that need to be addressed, because without those, the B.C. Liberals will always have a head start, Travis said.

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