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No slowdown in campaign fundraising as BC Liberals promise reform

BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark earlier this week announced plans to establish an independent panel on campaign finance reform if her party is re-elected in May.

CHAD HIPOLITO/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The governing BC Liberal Party, with its campaign war chest brimming ahead of the May 9 provincial election, has raised $2-million in political donations in the first 10 weeks of 2017.

"We're in pretty good shape," Deputy Premier Rich Coleman, the co-chair of the BC Liberal election campaign and a key fundraiser for the party, told reporters.

The Liberals had to take out loans to finance their 2013 campaign. Those debts were repaid by June, 2015, and since that time, the party has hauled in nearly $20-million.

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BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark earlier this week announced plans to establish an independent panel on campaign finance reform if her party is re-elected in May. In the meantime, the province's rules for political contributions are largely unfettered. The one legislative change the Premier promised last May – to provide more frequent reporting of donations – died on the order paper when the spring legislative session ended on Thursday.

Although the proposed change did not make it into law, the BC Liberals began this year to post updates of their donations online. Those disclosures show they have collected just over $2-million from about 4,700 donors in 2017, as of March 10. The opposition New Democrats have not released updated figures for this year, but in 2016 raised half the amount of money as the Liberals.

With no cap on donation amounts in British Columbia, a significant number of the Liberals' donations are in the five-figure range or more, with resource companies and real estate interests topping the list.

The top donor so far this year is a mining company, Goldcorp Inc., which donated $100,000 to the Liberals. The company, which has its headquarters in Vancouver but no mining assets in B.C., was also a top donor last year, giving the party $200,000. (A former CEO of the company, Doug Holtby, is one of the directors of the group Concerned Citizens for British Columbia 2017, an organization that is sponsoring attack ads on the NDP.)

Business leader Gwyn Morgan has provided the largest individual donation so far this year, at $35,000. The association representing non-union construction firms, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C., gave $33,700.

Two forestry companies dug deep: Canfor paid $26,450 and West Fraser Mills offered $25,000.

Two Vancouver real-estate firms are among the top donors: Rennie Marketing Systems Ltd. – an arm of Bob Rennie's real-estate empire – gave $20,400. Mr. Rennie stepped down in January as Ms. Clark's chief fundraiser. Anderson Square Holdings Ltd., contributed $18,000.

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Another large individual donor is listed as Scott Laprairie, at $17,500, from Fort St. John. Liberal officials were unable to confirm if the donor is Scott LaPrairie, CEO of the Calgary-based LaPrairie Group of Companies, which has oil-and-gas service firms, including an operation in Fort St. John, B.C., and is also a director of the Concerned Citizens for B.C. Mr. LaPrairie did not return calls or e-mails.

Political parties have no spending limits in this pre-election period, but during the four-week writ period that starts on April 11, each will be limited to $4.7-million. As well, candidates in the 87 ridings can spend about $75,000. The precise amount will be determined at the beginning of the campaign.

Mr. Coleman, the Deputy Premier, said this pre-election period is a crucial time for spending: "Money spent in the prewrit is always very valuable to delivering a message, and to get name recognition. We all do it."

He said his party was in far different shape going into the 2013 election, when the New Democrats were widely expected to win, and corporations and lobbyists flocked to NDP fundraisers hoping to curry favour with the government-in-waiting.

"Anything is in better shape than where we were four years ago," Mr. Coleman said. "It was December, 2012, that we actually paid off our debt, and then we immediately went in and borrowed to do the election. We didn't have the funds."

Even after tapping donors for $12.4-million in 2016, Ms. Clark is continuing the fundraising efforts right up to the start of the campaign. She will hold her last pre-election leader's dinner on April 10 in Vancouver, and the event has already sold out of the best $10,000-per-table seats.

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About the Author
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

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