BC NDP’s fundrais­ing bill to ban cor­po­rate, union do­na­tions

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - NEWS - GARY MASON gma­son@globe­and­mail.com

As soon as Monday, Bri­tish Columbia will be put on a path that will change its pol­i­tics for­ever. It will come in the shape of leg­is­la­tion that will re­form the prov­ince’s em­bar­rass­ingly out­dated cam­paign­fi­nance rules.

The new govern­ment has fi­nal­ized a bill that will trans­form the way elec­tions are waged and how par­ties gov­ern them­selves, lev­el­ling a play­ing field that has been un­fair for decades. Mostly, it will pre­vent the prov­ince’s wealth­i­est cit­i­zens from hav­ing an out­sized role in the out­come of elec­tions and take “big money” out of B.C.’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

While I have not seen the bill, af­ter talk­ing to a num­ber of peo­ple who had in­put in its mak­ing, here’s what I be­lieve is in store for Bri­tish Columbians: An im­me­di­ate ban on cor­po­rate and union do­na­tions that will be retroac­tive to the end of the past elec­tion. In other words, any do­na­tions of that na­ture since May 9 will not be al­lowed to stand and will have to be re­voked. In­di­vid­ual cam­paign-do­na­tion lim­its will be set at $1,200, far less than the $5,000 ceil­ing the Op­po­si­tion Lib­er­als were propos­ing in their pri­vate mem­ber’s bill in­tro­duced this week. Quebec will still have the low­est in­di­vid­ual limit in the coun­try at $100. Peo­ple will be able to split their do­na­tion to­tal be­tween a party and a can­di­date if they so de­sire. Also, an in­di­vid­ual can give that do­na­tion limit to more than one party/can­di­date. A ban on for­eign and out-of­province do­na­tions. Party lead­ers will no longer be able to go to cities such as Cal­gary and Toronto to fundraise. New rules around do­na­tions for party lead­er­ship con­tests. Tighter reg­u­la­tions around third-party in­volve­ment in cam­paigns. While the govern­ment has lim­ited con­trol over third­party ads around par­tic­u­lar is­sues, it does have much greater say over third-party ads of an overtly po­lit­i­cal na­ture. This part of the bill is aimed at stop­ping in­di­vid­u­als from get­ting around the new spend­ing lim­its by fund­ing third par­ties (the equiv­a­lent of U.S. po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees) to af­fect elec­tion out­comes, a devel­op­ment we’ve wit­nessed re­cently in Al­berta.

The new leg­is­la­tion is ex­pected to have an im­pact on non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Lead­now and other groups that have taken ac­tive roles in elec­tion cam­paigns.

This bill will not af­fect mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions. How­ever, the pro­vin­cial govern­ment will make changes to a sep­a­rate act that will put mu­nic­i­pal politi­cians and par­ties un­der the same rules.

While there has been some anx­i­ety over the de­lay in tabling the bill – it hasn’t re­ally been much of a wait – it’s fair to say the new govern­ment un­der­es­ti­mated how slow the bill draft­ing process would be.

Every word in leg­is­la­tion of this sig­nif­i­cance has mean­ing, as NDP House Leader Mike Farn­worth said this week. It also has to pass muster with a con­sti­tu­tional re­view com­mit­tee; the prob­a­bil­ity that some as­pect of it will be legally chal­lenged is high.

There had to be ex­ten­sive con­sul­ta­tion with the Chief Elec­toral Of­fi­cer, the per­son who is go­ing to have to ad­min­is­ter and over­see the bill on the ground. To that end, his of­fice will re­ceive ad­di­tional fund­ing in or­der to au­dit the ac­tiv­i­ties of po­lit­i­cal par­ties and en­sure they are play­ing by the new rules.

I think an­other fac­tor that came into play was com­ing to terms with just how en­trenched the old sys­tem was. For in­stance, how do you deal with the is­sue of unions grant­ing em­ploy­ees leave to go work on a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign? How do you as­sess that work in terms of a fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tion? I guess we will soon find out. And, of course, there was an­other el­e­ment in the prepa­ra­tion of this his­toric bill: the Greens. The NDP’s ally in this Par­lia­ment had to be con­sulted on any as­pects of the bill that had not al­ready been mu­tu­ally agreed upon.

While it’s cer­tainly fair to say that At­tor­ney-Gen­eral David Eby de­serves the lion’s share of the credit for the bill, the Greens and their Leader, An­drew Weaver, should not be over­looked when it comes to dol­ing out praise.

Mr. Weaver has been a tire­less cham­pion of this cause. And it’s only right to note that his fin­ger­prints are on this leg­is­la­tion, too.

The paucity of cam­paign fi­nance laws in Bri­tish Columbia made the prov­ince an in­ter­na­tional laugh­ing­stock. Start­ing next week, it will shed its Wild West im­age once and for all.

Pol­i­tics in B.C. will never be the same. This is a very good thing.

CHAD HIPOLITO/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

BC NDP Leader John Hor­gan, left, and Green Party Leader An­drew Weaver in Victoria in May. Start­ing next week, B.C. will shed its Wild West im­age once new cam­paign fi­nance rules are laid out.

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