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B.C. Liberals display arrogance on the issue of campaign financing

If you needed evidence of the complete arrogance the B.C. government is capable of displaying on the issue of campaign financing, Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson was happy to provide it this week.

The Liberals' recent disclosure that it had raised $12.5-million in 2016, most of it on the backs of wealthy corporations and the richest people in the province, has fanned the flames once again around the issue of reforming an area of our electoral system that has become embarrassingly out of sync with the rest of the country.

While corporate and union donations, as well as cash-for-access dinners have been outlawed in most of Canada, here they continue to be embraced by the governing party. The degree to which B.C. remains a morally corrupt outlier on this front was recently the subject of a piece in The New York Times, no less.

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

Read more: B.C. Liberals post donations online; party raised $12.5-million in 2016

Read more: Controversial fundraiser leaves B.C. NDP as guilty as the Liberals

If you imagined this bit of unpleasant publicity might have at least made the B.C. Liberals twinge with regret, pause for even a slight second about their insistence on allowing big-city elites to have an outsized role in determining elections in the province, you would have imagined wrong.

"We don't have limits in British Columbia and that's how it has been working now for decades," Mr. Wilkinson said proudly this week, when he was pushed to answer questions on the topic. "It's a system that works and we believe that transparency is the issue."

In other words people: shut up.

Premier Christy Clark, who has remained uncharacteristically silent amid the latest uproar around the issue, has also been fond of saying that the system as is works. Who could deny that? But works for whom? It most certainly works for the pro-business Liberals, who have benefited enormously from it. They won't change because they believe, perhaps rightly, that this issue is not a priority for the vast swath of the public.

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The Liberals don't care what is ethically right. That is the last thing they are concerned about. They care about winning, keeping power, at any cost. Period. Only when they judge that their grasp on the levers of government are threatened do they move on an issue.

Consequently, after months and months of doing nothing about the runaway housing market for fear of upsetting their donor friends in the development and real estate industries, the government had to move because of the public unrest the issue was creating. That clamour was viewed to be a risk to the party's electoral chances.

So, Ms. Clark reluctantly introduced a 15-per-cent foreign buyers' tax. A bold move to get out in front of a serious issue it was not. A desperate decision to satisfy the braying mob is more like it.

But back to electoral reform.

One can't be but amused by the Liberals' signature defence of the system as it exists: that they are transparent about how much money they bring in and who donates. What a ridiculous and pathetic justification that is.

First, the fact that the party is disclosing donations ahead of when Elections BC would make them public means nothing. The information is going to come out eventually anyway. So what if you make it public a few months ahead of that time. What does that change? Absolutely nothing.

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The same applies to the "real time reporting" of donations, the Liberals have introduced with so much fanfare. So what if you disclose which millionaires have donated to your party in a 10-day period? I'd be more interested in the party revealing who was at the latest $10,000-a-plate dinner the Premier sat down at in the dining room of a party supporter.

That is called cash for access, access everyday members of the public don't enjoy, could never enjoy. And that should never be the case. Select citizens should never enjoy more entrée with those who run the province based on the size of their bank account, and the influence they wield.

But that is what's happening in B.C. The provincial Liberals cater to the ruling class. It is a symbiotic relationship. Here is some money to help ensure you guys stay in power, in return these millionaire donors get the government, and the policies that help ensure they continue to pad their massive bank accounts.

There is nothing about this of which the B.C. Liberals should be proud. It is a system that enriches the elites and perpetuates a power structure that ignores the average Joe and Jane.

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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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