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B.C. NDP renews call for ban on corporate, union donations

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan arrives at Provincial Court in Vancouver, B.C., on May 17, 2016.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's Opposition New Democrats are calling for a ban on union and corporate donations, but would leave it to an independent body to set caps on the individual donations that would be key to political financing in such a scenario.

On Thursday, NDP Leader John Horgan repeated his long-standing promise to ban donations from unions and corporations if his party is elected to govern the province, which has few limits, saying the governing Liberals have done nothing to deal with the issue.

But he would give no specifics on the limits, saying Elections BC would be asked to look at best practices and come up with a new system.

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"It's incumbent upon a political body to make those rules," Mr. Horgan told a news conference in Victoria.

As well as banning union and corporate donations, Ontario, for example, has capped annual individual donations at $3,600. And Alberta has capped them at $4,000 per calendar year and enacted a similar ban. Federally, individuals can donate a collective $3,050 a year to a political party and riding associations, plus $1,525 to a party-leadership contestant.

Mr. Horgan said his party will introduce a bill to ban corporate and union donations in the next few weeks. Previous bills have failed to gain the support of the Liberals, who have a majority in the legislature.

Premier Christy Clark was unavailable for comment on Thursday, but Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson, designated to speak on the issue, was dismissive of donation limits.

"We don't have limits in British Columbia, and that's how it has been working now for decades. It's a system that works and we believe that transparency is the issue," Mr. Wilkinson told reporters in Victoria.

The Liberals have been touting a move, launched last Friday, to publish donations in a timely manner.

They released a list of donors and amounts for 2016, months ahead of schedule, and have published the information for the early part of this month.

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The NDP calls the measure a gimmick that does nothing to address concerns about big money in politics.

But while the NDP wants limits, it is still seeking donations for the May. 9 provincial election. Mr. Horgan said this week that party members have told him it would be foolish to do otherwise.

"Unilateral disarmament is not a successful way to proceed," Mr. Horgan told reporters earlier this week, referring to the option of not accepting top-level donations to set an example.

"I've canvassed this issue extensively with the people within the party and the people in the public, and they say, 'Why tie your hands behind your back and have a moral victory and let the Liberals win again?' We're going to fundraise effectively as we can."

Mr. Horgan said he has a message for corporations: "'If you give to us, this will be the last time you will have to do it. Make the pain stop and let the NDP win the next election.

"`We will ban union and corporate donations. You won't have to eat any more rubber chicken. You won't have to show up and shake hands with people you will never see again. Let's change the law, and you do that by changing the government.'"

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Questions were raised about NDP fundraising after a Nov. 24 resource-industry event at a Vancouver restaurant for which people could pay $10,000 to dine with Mr. Horgan, but the party refused to say who attended.

Earlier this week, the B.C. Liberals pointed out that Mr. Horgan will hold an event with NDP finance spokesperson Carole James at the same restaurant next week with a top ticket price of $10,000.

The Liberals have been under fire for six-figure donations that helped them bring in more than $12-million last year, including $200,000 contributions from some companies and several $100,000 gifts. Critics have said these are some of the largest political donations in Canada.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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