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B.C. NDP under fire for cash-for-access fundraising event

NDP Leader John Horgan speaks after NDP candidate Jodie Wickens won a provincial byelection in the riding of Coquitlam - Burke Mountain, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Tuesday February 2, 2016.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's Opposition NDP is under fire for a resource-industry fundraising event in which attendees could pay $10,000 to dine with Leader John Horgan, despite the party's commitment to ban union and corporate donations.

The event, which took place Thursday evening in downtown Vancouver, resembled intimate, high-priced fundraising dinners hosted by B.C. Premier Christy Clark that prompted criticism – including from Mr. Horgan – earlier this year.

The New Democrats defended the event as a practical necessity for an opposition party that is preparing for a provincial election scheduled for next May, while simultaneously promising to ban such donations if elected.

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"I think we have been pretty clear that we are opposed to the current rules for political fundraising, but these are the rules that exist," party president Craig Keating said in an interview.

"The moment we form government in May, we're going to abolish union and corporate donations."

Mr. Keating said he was not organizing the event so was unable to confirm ticket costs and sales.

However, an online registration page said single guests would pay $2,500 and two guests $4,000 for tickets to a 90-minute "executive reception" over canapés and beverages in Hawksworth Restaurant, one of B.C.'s most acclaimed eateries. For $10,000, an organization could bring up to five guests, one of whom would be able to stay for a three-hour VIP dinner and cocktail event with Mr. Horgan and "his team."

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Mr. Keating said he would be attending the event along with several MLAs and Mr. Horgan to talk about guests' concerns over the future of the resource sector in B.C. under the current government.

Andrew Weaver, the Leader of the B.C. Green Party, accused the NDP of "duplicity" on the issue of banning "big money" in B.C. politics.

"Big money has a corrupting influence in British Columbia; the B.C. NDP has berated the B.C. Liberals time and time again for this practice, while quietly participating in it themselves," Mr. Weaver said in a statement.

"We cannot trust politicians who are elected with donations from companies that stand to benefit from government decisions. To campaign on eliminating this practice while benefiting from it is egregious."

Earlier this year, the provincial Greens banned corporate and union donations.

The Liberals and Ms. Clark have been under fire over political fundraising activities. Earlier this year, The Globe and Mail reported that Ms. Clark, who is paid $195,000 a year by taxpayers, also receives $50,000 from her party. As well, The Globe and Mail has revealed the Premier has attended intimate, private political fundraisers at which donors pay as much as $10,000 a seat.

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Those reports prompted NDP MLA David Eby and Duff Conacher of Ottawa-based Democracy Watch to file complaints with the conflict-of-interest commissioner. Mr. Eby argued Ms. Clark's party allowance gave her a direct, private interest in donations the party collected at exclusive fundraisers.

Ms. Clark was cleared by the commissioner. However, Democracy Watch, last month, challenged the rulings in B.C. Supreme Court.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been forced to answer questions this week about his own fundraising activities, after The Globe reported he appeared at a party fundraiser attended by a group of Chinese billionaires.

Concerns over similar events held by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne prompted her Liberal government to ban such fundraising activities as of Jan. 1, 2017.

Mr. Keating said there was a previous such gathering organized by the NDP in the 2013 election cycle that ended with the B.C Liberals winning a fourth, consecutive majority mandate. However, he said Thursday's gathering is the first for the resource sector in conjunction with the 2017 election cycle.

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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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