'Wild west' approach to donations may sink BC Liberals

Plain Rhetoric
By Bill McQuarrie
March 14, 2017 - 5:00am

KAMLOOPS — Last Thursday, Deputy Premier Rich Coleman, speaking on Liberal Party campaign finances boasted, “As far as I’m concerned, we haven’t changed anything, we’re not about to change anything.” The following day, Elections BC announced they have turned their investigation of BC Liberal Party fundraising practices over to the RCMP

Prior to that announcement, Mr. Coleman also called the New York Times article on political donation regulations, “laughable." That cavalier attitude set the tone and perhaps unintentionally has given us an insider's glimpse of the ‘who cares what voters think' approach Premier Clark and the BC Liberals have towards political financing rules.

In a recent editorial about BC’s “wild west” approach to campaign finances, the Globe and Mail summed it up, writing, “...her (Premier Clark) party, have become addicted to the money that is sluiced into their coffers every year by supplicant corporations, lobbyists and business owners.”

Despite Ms. Clark’s promise of reform (including a committee review that will report back after the election), there is nothing to suggest it will in any way interfere with, prevent or limit the amount companies and lobbyists can give to the Liberal Party. The party’s total disregard and disdain for voters has been noted across Canada and around the world.

MacLean’s Magazine goes a step further, writing, “British Columbians’ faith in democracy is being undermined...and there’s a growing concern that their government is essentially being bought and paid for by a wealthy clique.”

MacLean’s goes on to point out that some of “the planet’s most corrupt nations” are more transparent about party donations than is BC.

I have a very difficult time knowing that corrupt dictatorships treat party financing with more respect than our provincial government. The failure of Ms. Clark and her party to recognize this and the potential conflict of interest it creates is beyond comprehension.

That perception of a conflict of interest can be found on an almost weekly if not daily basis. Emil Anderson Construction gave $50,000 to the BC Liberals and later won a $36 Million highway contract. Imperial Metals of Polley Mine notoriety has donated $195,000 and later hosted a $1 million fundraiser in Calgary for Ms. Clark. Seven of the eight board members of the Fraser Health Board have donated a combined $130,938 since 2005. This list goes on.

There is absolutely nothing to suggest that any of these or the many other donor companies have violated the law. Only the RCMP investigation will determine that. However, it is the perception of influence peddling that should raise red flags when it comes to conflict of interest.

According to the Globe and Mail, even those who contribute to the BC Liberal Party are beginning to question the party’s ethics and morals. “It’s like you are getting strong-armed” complains one lobbyist. Another explains, “You are paying not to be blacklisted” “The whole thing is smelly." While still another lobbyist laments, “It’s the price of doing business. It bugs me. It’s not right.”

Vicki Huntington, independent MLA for Delta South summed it up, when she wrote, “People are tired of seeing their government ignore the interests of citizens in favour of a free-for-all system where money talks and special interests are taken care of first.”

Locally, Ajax and Kinder Morgan donate to the BC Liberal Party and both companies have a vested interest in Kamloops and decisions made or being made by the province. The “wild west” descriptors, the apparent indifference towards party finances, the RCMP investigation and the first open signs of corporate fears about being blacklisted or strong-armed into donating, raise more than casual concern.

Neither Mr. Stone, Mr. Lake or candidate Milobar are stepping forward to explain how and why their government is not, as suggested by MacLean’s Magazine, being bought and paid for by a wealthy clique.

The party tried to suggest donations came for the most part from individual citizen donors but we are now discovering that many ‘citizen donors’ are in fact lobbyists or employees fronting for corporations.

The last time the BC Liberals became this arrogant, then-Premier Gordon Campbell was forced from his job. How will these episodes of disdain for the voter end? I suspect it will not end well for this government.