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BC NDP to keep taking donations while Greens call for immediate ban

British Columbia’s premier-designate, John Horgan, arrives at the Government house to meet Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon in Victoria on Thursday.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

British Columbia's NDP said it will continue to collect donations from corporations and unions as the party prepares to form government, even as its partner in a power-sharing agreement calls for an immediate end to such contributions.

The NDP, which aligned with the Greens to defeat the Liberal minority government in a confidence vote last week, has vowed to ban corporate and union donations to political parties.

But a spokesperson for premier-designate John Horgan said that while a ban "will be one of the very first things we get done in the house," the party will not immediately stop accepting such donations.

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Read more: Inside the negotiations to determine B.C.'s next government

"Until we are able to change the rules in the first house sitting, we will be operating under the rules as they exist," the spokesperson, Sheena McConnell, wrote in an e-mail.

Given that before former Liberal premier Christy Clark resigned, Green Party leader Andrew Weaver challenged the Liberals to stop accepting corporate donations, the issue could be an early point of contention in the Green-NDP alliance.

In a statement over the weekend, Mr. Weaver said "there is no reason any B.C. political party should be accepting" corporate and union donations. He said the Greens banned the practice in September because it was the right thing to do.

"I hope the leaders of the other two parties realize that now is the time to end this practice for good and take similar actions to reform their internal campaign-finance practices while we move towards legislation on this file," the statement read.

There are few limits on political fundraising in B.C. and the province has increasingly come to be described as the "Wild West" of electoral finance.

The Liberals raised $13.1-million in donations last year, while the NDP raised $6.2-million. Nearly two-thirds of the money raised by the Liberals – $7.7-million – came from a relatively small collection of corporate and business donors. Of the money donated to the NDP, $1.8-million was from unions.

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The Greens and the NDP have agreed to work together on key issues, including campaign finance, electoral reform and the environment.

Glen Sanford, a vice-president with the BC NDP, said in an interview that the party has been clear it will continue to "play by the rules until the rules change."

Mr. Sanford said he did not know when the ban on corporate and union donations might take effect. A new budget and Throne Speech are expected in early September.

Mr. Sanford said he was also unclear on how much the NDP had raised from corporations and unions in recent weeks and months.

He said the NDP would be giving the Liberals a clear advantage if the party stopped accepting corporate and union donations, even without an election imminent.

"I don't expect Christy Clark and the Liberals to stop campaigning," he said. "…They're going to keep working hard and we have to as well, as a party."

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A Liberal Party spokesperson did not respond to a message regarding electoral finance.

The Liberals were reduced to 43 seats in the May 9 election, while the NDP took 41 and the Greens won three. The Greens then entered negotiations with both the Liberals and the NDP to determine which party they would support, eventually reaching an accord with the NDP.

The NDP and the Greens signed a confidence and supply agreement in late May. The 10-page agreement said the parties would not only ban corporate and union donations but would also prohibit contributions from non-residents of B.C.

The two parties pledged limits on individual contributions, as well.

Democracy Watch, a group that advocates for democratic reform, has said individual donations in B.C. should be capped at $100 annually, as they are in Quebec.

The Liberals, who had previously rejected calls to ban union and corporate donations, earlier this year pledged to put the issue to an independent panel after the election. In a Throne Speech last month that adopted many promises from the NDP and the Greens, the Liberals pledged to ban union and corporate donations and place limits on individual contributors.

The RCMP is investigating the practice of lobbyists and other corporate representatives donating to political parties in their own names using money from the companies they represent. Such third-party donations, outlined in a Globe and Mail investigation published this year, are prohibited.

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