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B.C. campaign finance reform will fundamentally change the province’s politics

Of the numerous proposals made by the BC Liberals this week, it is noteworthy that the promise-laden Speech from the Throne led off with political and democratic reform.

Significant, as well, is the fact the Liberals conceded it was something that should have been addressed long before now – a rare admission of error and regret from this government. Sure, it comes as it faces certain defeat in the legislature, but at least it's something.

If there is one thing beyond doubt now, it's that politics in the province will never be the same. The wealthy will no longer play an outsized role in determining the outcome of elections because of the size of their bank accounts. No longer will the rich be able to write $10,000 cheques to attend private fundraising dinners with the premier, gaining access to power the average citizen can only dream about.

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This is a big deal.

We don't know how events are going to unfold in the province in the coming weeks, but we do know this: whether the NDP forms a government for some time, or whether there is a snap election and the Liberals regain a stranglehold on power, campaign finance reform is coming. And given that the current Liberal government could lose office only to retake it in the next few months, it is worth examining the democratic-reform proposals laid out in the Throne Speech.

They go much, much farther than anything the Liberals have discussed before.

Under the Liberal plan, union and corporate donations would be banned but so would third-party donations, including in-kind offerings. They're proposing to outlaw foreign donations and funding from a federal political party. They want to restrict the role of money influencing elections through third parties. This is significant. This could impact, for instance, money that advocacy groups such as Leadnow get from foreign entities such as the U.S.-based Tides Foundation. Australia introduced a similar law recently.

The Liberals would also ban loans to parties by any organization other than a Canadian chartered bank or credit union.

This would particularly impact the NDP, which has in the past received loans from unions in Canada and the United States.

Finally, the Liberals intend on imposing a maximum donation limit for individuals, which is comparable to what is in place in other jurisdictions.

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This is an extremely important rule.

If the limit is too high, then it will once again allow the wealthy to play a bigger role in the outcome of elections than the average person.

It has to be within reason. It is unclear if Premier Christy Clark, given a chance to bring such a bill into law, would still insist as she has that political parties not be subsidized with taxpayer money, as they are elsewhere.

If she does make this a requirement, it would likely mean the limit would have to be higher than it would be if some taxpayer dollars were involved.

I have always believed that the public would accept using some of their tax dollars to create a fairer and more democratic electoral system.

I think that, at this point, Ms. Clark would be open to just about anything if she thought it would endear herself to voters.

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Over all, the suite of changes the Liberals are proposing go further, in some cases, than what the NDP and Greens are recommending.

If the New Democrats do assume office, as expected, than there should be a push from both the Greens and the Liberals to go further than they currently are intending to and make the campaign finance laws in B.C. the toughest in the country.

When you consider that all three parties are also on board with enabling another referendum on electoral reform, it is difficult to imagine how different democracy in British Columbia could look in a few years' time.

It could go from the Wild West, to one of the most fair and honest electoral systems in Western democracy.

It is easy to look at the current political situation and shake your head in disgust. And certainly some of what the province has witnessed in the past few weeks in the name of retaining power has been shameful. But eventually there will be good that comes from it all.

In the near future, B.C. will become a much better version of itself.

Video: Christy Clark on using other parties’ ideas in throne speech (The Canadian Press)
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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More

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