Toronto – March 30, 2017 – For months now, B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark has attempted to ignore the growing public anger over her party’s fundraising practices. But with the announcement that Elections B.C. has placed its investigation of potentially illegal donations in the hands of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Clark has had an epiphany and is once again pretending that she is going to take action on this issue.
British Columbia has the most lax election campaign financing rules in the country. There is no limit on the amount of money that corporations, unions, or individuals can donate to their preferred political parties. Out-of-province and out-of-country donations are permitted. Christy Clark’s Liberals have taken advantage of these rules to raise over $12 million in the last year – three times more than the leading opposition party. And $7.8 million of that money came from corporations.
At first, Clark tried to waive off concerns around her pay-for-access events, where wealthy and corporate donors would sometimes pay up to $20,000 for small intimate gatherings with the Premier and her cabinet ministers. She ignored concerns that were raised about her $50,000 salary “top-up,” which was paid for by the aforementioned donations. Clark continued to act as though this matter was a non-issue, and she once again refused to support a NDP bill that would ban corporate and union donations while setting limits on individual donations.
But then Christy Clark heard the four words that every politician fears – RCMP. With the upcoming provincial election less than two months away, Elections B.C. has turned over its investigation of potentially illegal political donations to the RCMP. Lobbyists are alleged to have made donations in their name only to be reimbursed afterwards, and this is one of the few things that B.C.’s campaign financing rules do not permit.
With the investigation now in the hands of the RCMP, Christy Clark moved into full-blown crisis management. First, she introduced legislation for quicker disclosure of political donations, along with lowering the amount for donations that need to be reported. But her government stopped short of setting donation limits for individuals, and it also refused to ban corporate, union, out-of-province, and out-of-country contributions. Most importantly, the bill failed to pass before the legislature adjourned for the provincial election.
When anger and suspicion over the Clark government’s inaction grew, the Premier announced that if her party is re-elected in May, they will form an independent panel to review B.C.’s Elections Act and make recommendations for reforming campaign finance laws. However, the recommendations will be non-binding on the government.
All of which raises the following questions: do B.C. voters want an old government that acts in the interests of their wealthy and corporate donors, or a new government that is committed to the interests of all British Columbians? And will the RCMP investigation be the scandal that finally brings the Clark government down?