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B.C.'s NDP unveils corporate and union donation legislation

Rob Shaw, Postmedia Network

Attorney General David Eby talks about actions taken to address problems with ICBC including an announcement of increases to the basic and optional rates in Vancouver, BC., September 5, 2017. (NICK PROCAYLO/PostMedia)

Attorney General David Eby talks about actions taken to address problems with ICBC including an announcement of increases to the basic and optional rates in Vancouver, BC., September 5, 2017. (NICK PROCAYLO/PostMedia)

VICTORIA - B.C.'s New Democrat government fulfilled one of its major campaign promises Monday by introducing a bill to ban corporate and union donations.

The legislation was tabled shortly before 2 p.m. in the legislature, and is set to be followed by a media availability with Premier John Horgan, Attorney General David Eby and Green party leader Andrew Weaver.

"This bill honours the government commitment to get big money out of politics," Eby told the legislature.

The legislation includes a cap on individual contributions of $1,200 annually (indexed to inflation after 2019), which could be split between either the party or candidates. It also restricts union and corporate money from showing up in leadership contests, through third parties, at party conventions and in other scenarios.

The law, if passed, will be retroactive to the last election, with non-compliant donations being forbidden from being used in future elections, said Eby. Presumably, the money could still be used to pay off current debt within political parties.

The legislation also proposes to reduce campaign spending limits for candidates and political parties by 25 per cent, and sets new fines for contravening the law. Public reporting will be mandatory for all fundraisers.

In what is likely to be a controversial addition, the bill also puts taxpayers on the hook for "a transitional annual allowance" over the next five years, with a special committee of the legislature to be charged with determining if it should continue beyond 2022 or expire in that year.

That formula stipulates funding of $2.50 per vote in 2018, which amounts to almost $2 million to the NDP, $2 million to the B.C. Liberals and $830,968. The total bill to taxpayers in 2018 to fund political parties would therefore be more than $4.8 million, with the amount declining in future years unless the legislature committee chooses to continue the formula.

Over five years, even with the declining formula, the NDP and Liberal parties would receive more than $8 million each in public funds to operate. The total cost, including the Greens, over five years is almost $20 million.

Horgan said Monday the bill is what his government campaigned on, and was a promise delivered. However, radio station CHNL posted an interview with Horgan from seven months ago in which he said taxpayers would not pay.

Horgan said last week his government was moving to introduce such a bill "as quickly as humanly possible."

"There were some constitutional issues as well as some consultation issues with Elections B.C.," he said on Sept. 13.

The NDP were sharply critical of the previous Liberal government's so-called "cash-for-access" fundraisers, in which wealthy donors paid large sums of money for private meetings with former premier Christy Clark and her ministers. The party promised during the election that banning corporate and union donations would be its first bill as government, and portrayed Clark in an advertising campaign as corrupt and beholden to donors for fundraising in such a manner.

However, since taking power on July 18, the NDP have continued to hold its own cash-for-access fundraisers, in which donors could pay $500 to golf with Horgan or $3,000 later this week to attend his annual leader's levee in Vancouver. The Liberals have called the NDP hypocritical, while the NDP has argued its just playing by the existing rules until it changes them.

The Liberals, meanwhile, have completely capitulated on the issue, introducing two bills since June to try and steal the NDP's thunder on banning corporate and union donations. The most recent bill, last week, remains on the order paper at the legislature.

The Liberal bill contained specific provisions to forbid lines of credit from anyone other than a chartered bank or credit union (a shot at the NDP, which takes loans from unions), as well as ban in-kind donations (another shot at the NDP, which relies heavily on campaign volunteers whose salaries are paid by major unions, such as the Steelworkers, who funded the NDP's top officials in the 2017 campaign).

rshaw@postmedia.com