B.C. Liberals report donations in ‘real time’

Premier Christy Clark said on January 23, 2017 that her government's retooled jobs plan aims to make British Columbia the most diversified economy in Canada.
Premier Christy Clark said on January 23, 2017 that her government's retooled jobs plan aims to make British Columbia the most diversified economy in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Darryl Dyck

VICTORIA – The British Columbia Liberal Party says it will begin posting its political donations in real time, starting Friday by revealing it collected $12.3 million in corporate and individual contributions last year.

The Election Act filing deadline for 2016 donations is March 31, but the figures were released in what the party said is a voluntary move to improve transparency and accountability.

“Our system is based on a fair and simple principle: parties compete for financial support from those who share their values, just like they compete for votes,” said Todd Stone, Transportation Minister and Liberal Party campaign co-chairman in a statement.

“Our voluntary real-time reporting of donations, in addition to strict spending limits on parties during campaigns, means citizens can have confidence in our democracy,” he said.

The party has been criticized for holding exclusive fundraising events with access to Premier Christy Clark where tickets can cost up to $20,000 each.

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READ MORE: Premier Clark cleared again on conflict of interest allegations

Clark said last year she would move to introduce real-time reporting of donations and the party said it will now post its financial contributions online within 10 business days of deposit — and well ahead of next May’s B.C. election.

Data released by the Liberal Party stated it received $7.9 million in corporate donations and $4.4 million in individual contributions last year.

The party said in a statement individual donors outnumber corporate donors by a four-to-one margin, with 9,324 individuals and 1,876 corporations making donations in 2016. The statement said 84 per cent of corporate donations last year were $5,000 or less.

The largest Liberal donations in 2016 were primarily from the corporate sector, with Vancouver’s Aquilini Investment Group contributing $131,000, property project developer 2300 Kingsway Residences donating $200,000 and Bert’s Electric (2001) Ltd., of Langley contributing $100,000.

READ MORE: Clark draws fire for taking B.C. Liberal Party stipend above her salary

The new reporting system shows the first few weeks of 2017 have produced dozens of donations to the Liberals, including $100,000 from Goldcorp Inc., $20,400 from Rennie Marketing Systems Ltd., and $25,000 from West Fraser Mills Ltd.

The Opposition NDP has called for bans on corporate and union donations to political parties.

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The B.C. New Democrats received $3 million in political donations in 2015, but the party has not released the amount of its 2016 donations. Leader John Horgan has said 80 per cent of donations to the party are from individuals.

New Democrat MLA Jodie Wickens said in an interview the party will re-introduce a private members bill next month when the legislature resumes to ban corporate and union donations from political parties.

She said the early donation reporting option and real-time tracking announcement made Friday by the Liberals does little to reform political financing in B.C.

“People are calling it the Wild West,” said Wickens. “We’re a mockery of the country because it’s just a complete free-for-all. When I’m talking to people in the community, they are not asking for a tinkering with reporting, they are asking to get the (corporate and union donations) out all together.”

READ MORE: New York Times report on BC: Canada’s ‘Wild West’ of political cash

Clark has said previously she would not overhaul B.C.’s political fundraising rules but she was open to changes, including real-time reporting.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck reserved a decision Friday on an application by Ottawa-based political watchdog group Democracy Watch that seeks to set aside two rulings made by B.C.’s conflict of interest commissioner.

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Paul Fraser’s rulings cleared Clark of allegations she violated conflict guidelines by attending exclusive fundraising events.

Last spring, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced plans for campaign finance legislation that prohibits union and corporate donations and ends private fundraising events.

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