In the run-up to the May 9 provincial election, the B.C. Liberals are counting on big money to help bring them a win, despite Premier Christy Clark’s repeated claims to the contrary.
Clark has steadfastly defended her province’s political donation system, which has no limit on donation size and permits people who don’t live in B.C. — and even those who don’t live in Canada — to donate. The Western province is a significant outlier compared with the rest of Canada. The federal government and most other provinces have strict donation caps and only allow Canadians to contribute.
A National Post analysis of B.C. political donations from 2005 to 2017 found that 25.12 per cent of donations to the Liberal party come from those giving $20,000 or more. Over half of all money raised by the Liberals, or 54.05 per cent, comes from donations over $5,000. During a similar period (2005 to 2016), 19.59 per cent of the B.C. NDP’s money came from donations over $20,000, and 30.45 per cent came from donations over $5,000.
B.C. has a best-government-money-can-buy political donations system that violates the key democratic principle of one-person, one-vote
The NDP’s largest donations come from unions. The biggest donor was the B.C. Government and Services Employees Union, which gave $2.18 million between 2005 to 2015, followed by United Steelworkers at $1.67 million.
“B.C. has a best-government-money-can-buy political donations system that violates the key democratic principle of one-person, one-vote, because it allows businesses, unions and other interest groups, and wealthy individuals, even from other countries, to make donations that are much larger than an average voter can afford,” said Duff Conacher, co-founder of the advocacy group Democracy Watch, which has repeatedly challenged the Liberal’s fundraising practices in court.
In contrast with Clark, NDP leader John Horgan has promised to ban union and corporate donations if he wins the province’s May 9 election. If those donations are eliminated it would help the NDP level the playing field: they may rely on unions for their money, but the amount that corporations give to the Liberals is significantly higher.
In any other province they’d be screaming bloody murder over this.
The National Post analysis shows the average Liberal donation in B.C. is $1,260.80, about nine times more than the NDP’s $139.06. And while the vast majority — 87 per cent — of the NDP’s donations come from those giving under $200, that number is just 29 per cent for the Liberals.
Dermod Travis, executive director of the advocacy group Integrity BC, says the Liberals actually rely on a much smaller pool of wealthy donors then the data show, because people can give multiple times through different corporations they own. For example, property developer Aquilinis gave the Liberals $1.43 million through 24 companies and individuals over the past 12 years. Looked at individually, each of those 24 donors appear to be relatively small contributors. Collectively, they’re the second largest donor to the Liberals since 2005.
“These numbers show who really has influence in B.C. Clark clearly thinks voters won’t care. Maybe she’s right, but in any other province they’d be screaming bloody murder over this,” said Travis.
Christy Clark is not the only Canadian politician to face a backlash over fundraising. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent much of the past year being criticized on the issue.