Premier says no change to campaign financing amidst questions about convention funding

Most sponsors of BC Liberal Party convention have given before  

International trade minister Teresa Wat and finance minister Mike de Jong at the BC Liberal convention in Vancouver November 6 | Photo: Bob Mackin photo

Cash and in-kind sponsors of the BC Liberal Party annual convention in Vancouver last weekend ran the gamut, from big pharma and gambling to garbage and eye doctors.

Thirteen of the fourteen companies listed on a sign at the three-day event had combined for more than $1.76 million in historical donations to the party. It is not yet known how much they donated for the Westin Bayshore gathering. Elections BC data showed the biggest-spending sponsor of them since 2005 was the donor of $1.165 million-and-counting, the New Car Dealers Association of BC.

Heading the weekend list was Apotex, Canada’s largest generic drug maker that donated a modest $10,250 from 2012 to 2015. Its lobbyist is longtime B.C. and federal Liberal supporter Dean Crawford, who Premier Christy Clark named to the Queen’s Counsel lawyers list in 2014. Apotex chairman Bernard Sherman gained recent national media attention for helping organize a controversial November 7 $500-a-head fundraiser for federal Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

B.C. has no limits on the size or source of donations nor do the BC Liberals plan on enacting any before the May 2017 election.

By comparison, Elections Canada limits individual donations in 2016 to $1,525 to each registered party, $1,525 in total to all registered associations and candidates and $1,525 total to all leadership contestants in a particular contest. Parties are eligible for partial reimbursement from the public purse and donors are eligible for tax credits.

“Our political party is working hard to raise money from private sources, we don’t believe that political parties should have to take from tax dollars in order to run elections,” Clark told reporters in front of handpicked 2017 candidates, including ex-journalist and LNG promoter Jas Johal (Richmond-Queensborough), Telus lobbyist Kim Chan Logan (Vancouver-Kensington) and ex-Haisla Nation chief councillor Ellis Ross (Skeena).

“People want us to spend that on healthcare and education and teachers and nurses; they don’t want their tax dollars going into the pockets of political parties.”

Donors to registered provincial parties in B.C. are eligible for tax credits, which means parties do receive a type of indirect public support.

Elections BC shows that garbage hauler and convention sponsor Progressive gave the BC Liberals $42,500 over seven months in 2015, Great Canadian Gaming $43,767 between April 2015 and January 2016 and B.C. Doctors of Optometry $7,800, also in 2015. Progressive’s registered lobbyist is former Clark aide and BC Liberal pollster Dimitri Pantazopoulos.

Catalyst Paper ($149,465), LifeLabs ($94,020), Rogers Communications ($48,388), London Drugs ($46,629), B.C. Salmon Farmers ($38,225), Boxx Modular/Black Diamond LP ($25,200), Johnson and Johnson ($16,637) and Oppenheimer Group ($8,900) were the other convention sponsors. C2 Imaging was the only sponsor not appearing yet in the Elections BC database.

NDP critic Mike Farnworth was an observer at the convention and slammed the Liberals for what he calls a “pay-to-play” approach to fundraising. Apotex and Johnson and Johnson, for example, sell products to government, Great Canadian operates casinos in partnership with B.C. Lottery Corporation and optometry is provincially regulated.

“There needs to be significant campaign finance reform in B.C. and we have made it a key part of our platform; we are going to do away with corporate and union donations,” Farnworth said.

The Liberals raised almost $10 million last year and scheduled numerous fundraisers around the province this fall instead of reconvening the Legislature for its scheduled session. The NDP is playing catch-up. On November 3, it promoted a week-long “double-your-donation” fundraising drive. Email messages to party members mention that “a generous donor has offered to match every donation” for one week only. Farnworth said he did not know the identity of that anonymous donor.

Campaign financing is expected to be an issue through the 2017 election. Democracy Watch applied for a judicial review in BC Supreme Court late last month, asking for a judge to order a new conflict of interest probe of Clark’s $50,000-a-year stipend she receives for appearing at party fundraisers. Conflict of interest commissioner Paul Fraser found she did no wrong, but Democracy Watch says he is in conflict of interest because his son John Paul is a Clark-appointed government communications deputy minister.

Democracy Watch claims the elder Fraser set a precedent in 2012 when he recused himself, because of that familial connection, from an investigation of Clark’s participation in the BC Rail privatization.

Meanwhile, Richmond-Centre BC Liberal Teresa Wat, the minister of international trade and multiculturalism, was at the convention. She returned from Canada last week from China where she had remained for more than two months after a broken hip. The government did not publicize her absence until contacted by BIV.