February 4, 2019 9:29 pm
Updated: February 4, 2019 10:06 pm

B.C. NDP leads the way in fundraising numbers under new provincial rules

NDP candidate Shiela Malcolmson celebrates with Premier John Horgan after winning the byelection in Nanaimo, B.C., on Wednesday, January 30, 2019. The New Democrats won a key provincial byelection in British Columbia on Wednesday that allows Premier John Horgan's minority government to maintain its grip on power. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

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The B.C. NDP is leading the way when it comes to political donations under the new rules the government brought in to ban union and corporate political donations.

The governing party raised $2.05 million between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2018, according to figures released by Elections BC on Monday. The B.C. Liberals raised the second most with $1.69 million and the B.C. Green Party raised just shy of $439,000.

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“The B.C. NDP has always been a party that relies on individual contributors and that hasn’t changed,” NDP strategist Glen Sanford said. “It does mean that campaigns need to be more grassroots. And it certainty doesn’t give the advantage to any one party.”

READ MORE: B.C. NDP finishes first half of 2018 with most money raised in the province

The provincial government overhauled the donation process in 2017 by passing legislation that not only put bans on union and corporate political donations but also capped individual donations.

Individuals can now donate a maximum of $1,225 per year. The previous B.C. Liberal government was widely criticized for “cash-for-access” fundraisers where elected officials would have behind-closed-door meetings with large political donors. The B.C. NDP were also criticized in the 2017 campaign for relying heavily on donations from the United Steelworkers Unions, including the union paying the salaries of senior NDP campaign staff.

The changes also came with a taxpayer subsidy for political parties, which was established to help parties deal with the transition and will be phased out before the next provincial election.

READ MORE: In the dying days of B.C.’s ‘wild west,’ developers helped kick millions to the NDP and Liberals

The NDP also led the way for all of 2018. The party raised $5.3 million in donations and the subsidy, the Liberals raised $4.4 million and the Greens brought in $1.5 million.

“In the donations over $250 category we actually beat the NDP narrowly,” B.C. Liberal executive director Emile Scheffel said. “So where we have some work to do in further closing that gap is on donations under $250 which [is] fortunately where we have refocused our efforts this year especially on the digital side.”

The last six-month period marked the strongest non-election year total in the BC Greens’ history. The party stopped accepting union and corporate donations before the laws actually changed, in some cases sending back cheques.

WATCH (aired March 13, 2017): Political fundraising under scrutiny in B.C.

“It is the best fundraising year we have ever had outside of an election year. It shows there is momentum, that there is growth across the province,” said Green spokesperson Stefan Jonsson. “We raised 26 per cent of what the Liberals raised and 21 per cent of what the NDP raised. Think we have three MLAs compared to theirs, relatively [speaking] we out-raised them by a lot. It speaks to me to the relevance of the Greens across the province and how much of our work is respected.”

Political donations are used for day-to-day operations of political parties but also for election campaigns. The NDP says they have now paid off the debt the party incurred during the lead-up to the 2017 election.

The new rules will also change the way that political parties spend money during election campaigns.

“We always need a bit more to be sure we are ready,” the NDP’s Sanford said.

READ MORE: B.C. NDP fined $4,000 for late filing of political donations

The B.C. Greens say the party continues to make gains but won’t be able to catch up to the other parties in “one leap.”

“It is not going to be enough right now to run 87 fully-funded campaigns, but it puts us in a much better position,” Jonsson said. “We are looking at much better numbers in 2019.”

The B.C. Liberals say they raised over $300,000 in January, marking the party’s best month since the new rules kicked in. But they have also stripped down spending, including relocating to a less expensive office.

“We are in a strong position for where we are at,” Scheffel said.

“If a campaign comes along we are going to need to ask our supporters for even more generous support. What tends to happen is people give when they understand the urgency.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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