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Christy Clark vows ‘real-time’ disclosure of political donations

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark speaks in Vancouver, B.C., on March 18, 2016.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

B.C. Premier Christy Clark has promised to legislate more transparency around political fundraising, but stopped short of following Ontario's commitment to curb union and corporate donations in campaign financing.

Like Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, Ms. Clark is responding to revelations about intimate fundraisers at which access to top lawmakers can be had at a cost of thousands of dollars per person.

Ms. Clark announced her intention to introduce "real-time" disclosure of political contributions after stories in The Globe and Mail chronicled how her B.C. Liberal Party has stepped up its fundraising efforts for the 2017 election campaign through small, private gatherings with the Premier at a cost of as much as $20,000 per plate.

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"I'm going to be asking our Chief Electoral Officer to help us change the law in the province so that we can log in the donations in real time. People should be able to see when donations come in to political parties, not just once a year," Ms. Clark told reporters on Thursday during an unrelated news event in Williams Lake, B.C.

"It's something we have never done before, but it would help, I think, make the process more transparent and it would do a lot to add to the public sense of confidence that political parties are doing the right thing for them."

Earlier this week, The Globe disclosed details of a recent B.C. Liberal fundraiser at the home of Simon Fraser University chancellor Anne Giardini, at which 10 people paid $10,000 each to mingle and enjoy dinner with Ms. Clark. Neither Ms. Giardini nor the Liberal Party would release the names of those who attended. Bob Rennie, chief fundraiser for the B.C. Liberals, said in an interview that the party would likely hold at least 20 more such events before the next election in May, 2017.

Access to Ontario's Premier has also fetched a high price.

The Globe has reported on small-scale, high-priced fundraisers, including two unpublicized Ontario Liberal events – ticket prices were $6,000 and $5,000 per plate – that granted energy industry insiders time with Premier Wynne, Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli and Andrew Bevan, the premier's chief of staff. As well, the Ontario Liberals held a $7,500-per-plate fundraiser in December with Mr. Chiarelli and Finance Minister Charles Sousa, promoted by an executive at Bank of Nova Scotia, one of the banks that ran the privatization of Hydro One the previous month.

The advocacy group Democracy Watch says those fundraisers may have been illegal under Ontario's ethics rules and on Thursday called for the province's Integrity Commissioner, J. David Wake, to investigate. It asked Mr. Wake in a letter to prohibit such events immediately, release a list of attendees and to monitor policy-making that affects the donors to ensure there is no preferential treatment.

"The events can be stopped today, and the laws can be changed very soon after," said Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch.

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The B.C. Premier's fundraising events do not contravene campaign finance laws, but the opposition New Democrats say they raise ethical questions. B.C. NDP leader John Horgan dismissed Ms. Clark's promise of disclosure, and said she should instead enact the opposition's private members' bill that proposes to ban union and corporate donations to political parties.

"The issue is not about disclosure, the issue is about getting big money out of politics," Mr. Horgan told reporters on Thursday. He said he will re-introduce the NDP's bill next week that would limit the size of political donations so that individuals with fat wallets cannot "distort" the political process.

However, the NDP in B.C. has also been secretive about donors – Mr. Horgan held a $5,000-a-plate fundraiser in Toronto this week, but would not disclose who attended. He has a $2,000-a-plate event coming up.

Ms. Clark did not indicate when the changes to B.C. election law will be made. Ben Chin, the Premier's communications and issues management chief, said the expectation is that the names of those attending any small, exclusive fundraising event that includes the Premier or a cabinet minister would be made public shortly after it takes place. "It might be quarterly reporting and everything that happened from a fundraising perspective in that period would be reported out," Mr. Chin said.

With a report from Gary Mason in Vancouver

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About the Authors
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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