KAMLOOPS — It was first brought to the attention of the BC public last April; the $50,000 stipend Christy Clark receives from the BC Liberal party was just part of a New York Times article that came out last Friday, which called British Columbia “the ‘Wild West’ of political cash”. While the Premier deflected much of the controversy surrounding the issue last spring, the article in one of the biggest newspapers in North America has many in the province calling foul on Christy Clark, including candidates running in the Kamloops - North Thompson riding in the upcoming provincial election.
In an article published Friday, the New York Times called British Columbia the ‘Wild West’ of political cash, calling attention to the lack of regulation when it comes to donating to political parties here in the province. The piece, written by Dan Levin, drew attention to the annual stipend premier Christy Clark receives from the BC Liberal Party - a $50,000 ‘top up’ to her nearly $200,000 per year salary, from funds raised by her party through political contributions.
“[There’s] definitely disappointment and a whole lot of embarrassment,” Barb Nederpel, Kamloops-North Thompson candidate for the BC NDP told CFJC Today.
“It’s a bit shocking to see British Columbia held up as an example for political cash and money for access to power,” Dan Hines, the Green Party candidate for the riding commented.
While BC’s Conflict of Interest Commissioner cleared the Premier of any wrongdoing regarding the stipend last year, the optics of the situation aren’t very flattering, especially when you consider projects like the twinning of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline, which received approval from the province last week. According to the Times article, Kinder Morgan, and other oil industry supporters of the project have donated over $700,000 to the BC Liberal party in the past several years, while Clark has received more than $277,000 dollars from the party since she became premier in 2011.
“Whenever the government is considering a new initiative or making a decision, they check in with their donors,” Hines explained, adding government “want[s] to keep the money flowing.”
“When a corporation such as Kinder Morgan donates to the party, and the party turns around and puts that money into [the Premier’s] pocket, it’s definitely a questionable practice,” Nederpel said, adding the NDP would end that practice if they were to win the election in May.
Derek Cook is a Political Science professor at Thompson Rivers University and says he understands why the BC Liberal party provides the Premier with the annual stipend but also says politicians surely know where that money is coming from.
“You want to make sure politicians are well paid, so they’re not on the take on a personal level,” Cook explained. “However, the Kinder Morgan people will expect some benefit for the huge expenditure - the donation to the party.”
BC Liberal Party spokesperson Emile Scheffel provided a statement on behalf of the party:
We believe British Columbians are well served by a system in which political parties are funded by individuals and others who share their values and goals – with strict campaign spending limits and full disclosure of donations.
Because we take transparency and accountability seriously, we are now reporting all donations in real time on our website – something the NDP refuses to do.
We are strongly opposed to a system in which parties would be funded primarily by the public – requiring taxpayers to subsidise even the parties they would never vote for.
Covering additional expenses is a longstanding practice by parties of all stripes, whether through a stipend or reimbursement and in our party’s case dates back to the mid-1990s. - Emile Scheffel, BCLP Spokesperson
It’s likely this issue won’t go away anytime soon for Christy Clark and her Liberal government, as both the NDP and the Green party will make this a significant issue in the upcoming provincial election. Professor Cook hopes the external pressure the article has provided could cause the government to change the policy on donations.
“This is something, for BC to be targeted in this way by the New York Times, and in a negative way,” Cook said. “The Wild West isn’t a compliment these days when you talk about cash in politics.”
Whether or not the Liberals change their policy, the issue will be decided by the voters come May 2017.
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