So how much is too much? It’s a question worth asking after B.C.’s political parties reported their 2012 fundraising hauls last week.
And quite the haul it was. Between them, the B.C. Liberals and NDP brought in more than $17 million. The Liberals alone raised $10.15 million, nearly $4 million dollars more than their Ontario cousins did in 2011 and half of what the Conservative party spent in the 2011 federal election campaign.
If they serve no other purpose, these annual filings provide a tiny glimpse on the various fundraising approaches of each party. Who you take money from—and how much you’ll take from them—says a lot about the kind of party you are and the type of government you might run.
The filings offer up tidbits, such as Tim Hortons Advertising and Promotion Fund’s $1,000 donation to the B.C. Liberals.
There’s the shocking Aquilini Investment Corporation gift of $102,500 to the BC NDP, even though it’s highly doubtful that the Aquilini family actually had a conversion on the road to Damascus. More likely the family is simply placing bets on win, place, and show.
After all, they didn’t entirely abandon their Liberal pals. Aquilini Investment Corporation gave $60,600 to the Liberals, Aquilini Development and Construction gave $4,000, and Francesco Aquilini threw in $25,790 for good measure. And that’s on top of the $745,000 the family has already coughed up for the party since 2005.
And then there’s Calgary, as in Calgary, Alberta.
Calgary-based Burnco Rock Products Ltd. donated $50,700 to the Liberals last year, bringing their running total to a cool $180,700. For reasons known only to themselves, they couldn’t find at least $250 for any other party in B.C.
Burnco has a 77-hectare gravel mining and crushing facility planned for McNab Creek on the Howe Sound, just south of Squamish.
Of course, there are the stalwarts of the Calgary Petroleum Club who at least make a pretense of trying to spread Alberta’s oil riches around.
Encana tossed $143,600 into the Liberal coffers last year, bringing its eight-year largesse to $795,770, with $14,140 leftover for the NDP.
Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. saw fit to give $18,500 to the Liberals for an eight-year total of $117,480, a figure that doesn’t include the $260,000 given by the company’s former chairman Allan Markin. The company pillaged the corporate coffee fund to scrape $3,000 together for the NDP.
All told, Calgary’s major oil and gas companies have donated close to $1.5 million to the Liberals since 2005.
Party filings also include what might be called the “oops sheet,” or donations that should never have been accepted in the first place and have since been returned.
Last year, the Liberals returned $20,355 in prohibited donations, including $12,633 from Simon Fraser University, $300 from Vancouver-False Creek Liberal candidate Sam Sullivan’s Global Civic Policy Society, and $850 from the Prince George Airport Authority.
The NDP didn’t report any donation returns in 2012.
Banning Corporate Donations
Back in 2003, when Jean Chrétien’s government introduced a bill to ban corporate and union donations and cap personal donations, then Minister of Canadian Heritage Sheila Copps noted: “Well, obviously there’s a link between corporate donations and government policy, and that’s one of the reasons why we would like to ban corporate donations.”
Ten years later, a donor to the B.C. Liberal party trying to justify their donations put it even more bluntly: “That’s the way the system works.”
But British Columbians shouldn’t need to pull out their chequebook to talk to their government.
Corporate and union donations to political parties are now banned in Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Manitoba. At the federal level, even Jean Chrétien’s tough electoral finance rules have been further tightened by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Today in B.C., the NDP, the Greens, Conservatives, B.C. First and all three Independent MLAs seeking re-election support a ban on corporate and union donations.
Vision Vancouver, the NPA, COPE and the Green party support a ban as well, despite the fact that three of those parties have the most to lose from one.
A Mustel public opinion survey commissioned by IntegrityBC in March found that 59 percent of British Columbians support a ban, nearly a two-to-one margin over those who favour the current Wild West approach.
Only one party is still out of step with British Columbians on this issue: the B.C. Liberal party.
A ban won’t stop corporations and unions from participating in the political process, but it’ll be in their voice, not underwriting someone else’s.
In 2007, political affairs columnist Tom Fletcher wrote: “An end to corporate and union donations, seems to me to be the only realistic way out of the smoke, mirrors, and sewer scents of B.C. politics.”
He was right then—and $50 million later in corporate and union donations to B.C.’s political parties—he’s still right.
Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.