Opinion Column

For sale: One partially used province

By Garth Mullins, The Duel

B.C. Premier Christy Clark. (Carmine Marinelli/Vancouver 24hours File Photo)

B.C. Premier Christy Clark. (Carmine Marinelli/Vancouver 24hours File Photo)

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This week's question: Is it time to end campaign contributions and move to publicly funded elections?

For only $10,000 you could dine with Premier Christy Clark at her fundraiser Monday night. If you’re a real estate developer with condo projects needing government sign off, get out your credit card. That’s just how we roll in the Wild West.

There are no limits on political donations. Money matters more than votes. To stop government degenerating into a business, contributions to B.C. political parties should be replaced with public subsidies. Then, nobody would get elected owing some corporation.

The capitalist class has long used political contributions to dominate government. Scandal consumed Canada’s first prime minister, John A. MacDonald, after he awarded the contract to build the Canadian Pacific Railroad to a generous campaign donor.

Read Brent Stafford's column here.

In 1848, Karl Marx wrote: “the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” That’s largely still true today.

Real estate developers, banks and resource companies are all big donors to the B.C. Liberals. After visiting B.C., New York Times journalist Dan Levin reported, “British Columbia stands out for the unabashedly cozy relationship between private interests and government officials in the province.” Only when visitors drop by do we realize how messy our apartment really is.

B.C.’s governing Liberals raised more cash than any other provincial party in Canada. It mostly came from corporations and businesses, some of which are headquartered outside Canada. Voters are right to wonder what big contributors are getting in return for their cash.

Corporate cash is also laundered through individual donors, such as registered lobbyists, executives, PR people, financial advisers and other big shots who need not live here. According to reports, contributions are sometimes illegally orchestrated from individual donors who are later repaid.

Corporate contributions far eclipse union donations – and influence. The notion that unions could control government is red-scare Fantasyland. Unions want to ban both corporate and their own contributions. As a trade union activist, I agree. Over the years, NDP proposals to ban corporate and union donations have been blocked by B.C. Liberals six times.

If big business has cash just lying around to purchase political influence, let’s raise corporate tax rates. Your tax dollars already subsidize parties through generous tax rebates for political donors. Instead, public money should fund parties directly.

B.C.’s Latin motto is “Splendor Sine Occasu” — splendour without diminishment. But unless we take steps to break the power of big business over government, it ought to be changed to “Omnia Cum Pretio” — everything has a price.

Garth Mullins is a broadcaster, activist, writer, musician and trade unionist. He’s at www.garthmullins.com or @garthmullins.