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Globe and Mail reporter Justine Hunter.
Globe and Mail reporter Justine Hunter.

Opinion

On ‘big money’ politics, John Horgan’s not so subtle himself Add to ...

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan will hold his major pre-election fundraiser on Thursday night in a posh Vancouver hotel ballroom with 450 or so supporters and would-be allies. Donors are paying up to $1,000 a person for a stand-up reception – not even a chicken dinner – with the man who hopes to end the B.C. Liberals’ 16-year-long reign on election day in May.

Corporate interests and their fat wallets are welcome – in fact some in the business community got a not-so-subtle reminder in an e-mail last week that their failure to buy a ticket had been noticed. “John asked me to reach out to you to see if you can attend next week’s Leader’s Reception. I was going over the guest list and I did not see your name,” wrote Craig Keating, party president.

“We do not want you to miss this excellent opportunity to hear John’s vision for B.C. before the upcoming election.”

The irony is that the first piece of legislation Mr. Horgan would introduce if he becomes premier would be designed to get rid of “big money” in politics.

Related: British Columbia: The ‘wild west’ of fundraising

Premier Christy Clark, in the last Question Period exchange of the spring legislative session, deflected attacks on her own cash-for-access fundraising by talking instead about Mr. Horgan’s. “Well, here we have a Leader of the Opposition that says no one should take donations from corporations, and then he takes donations from corporations.”

Ms. Clark was sidestepping questions from Mr. Horgan about the vast sums of money her party has raised based on B.C.’s almost-unlimited rules around campaign finance, and the good luck some generous donors seem to have in securing government contracts.

“Will the Premier agree with me that it appears to the people of British Columbia that she’s working for her wealthy and well-connected donors and not for them?” Mr. Horgan asked.

The fact that the two leaders exchanged barbs on campaign finance in their last one-on-one before the election debates does not mean this will be a key issue in the campaign.

It’s not the strongest wedge issue because neither party comes out smelling particularly rosy. However, the governing Liberals have the power to change the rules, the NDP does not.

The New Democrats argue that they can’t afford to take the high road, at the risk of losing to the well-funded Liberals. And that’s not without merit. However, Mr. Horgan last week went a step further when he told reporters the potential for corrupting influences of big money is limited to governing parties.

“The B.C. Liberals have been doing deals with the same people that have been giving them money for the past 16 years,” he said.

“When the Premier says there is somehow some comparison here, an equivalency – I have never in my 12 years as a legislator done anything with respect to regulation of industry. I have never issued a permit. I have never granted a contract worth multimillion dollars to an ad company. The Liberals do that every single day. That’s why people see that our politics has been distorted.”

There are two main types of political donors – those who give because they want to help their party win, and those who simply want to be in the good books if that party is in government – or might form the government.

Heading into the 2013 election, the New Democrats had an outstanding fundraising year. It was not deep-pocketed New Democrats who made it so successful, it was lobbyists and big-business representatives who thought the NDP was going to win.

Then-NDP leader Adrian Dix’s election-eve fundraiser was a sold-out event, packed by a who’s who of Howe Street. Even Enbridge Inc. bought a table for $3,500, hoping that the NDP would remember it kindly if the company had to come knocking on premier Dix’s door for support to build the Northern Gateway oil pipeline.

Mr. Horgan’s argument that an opposition party can’t be influenced by big money implies that no one who is giving money to his party now might expect to call in the favour if he wins. That’s unlikely. As much as the New Democrats are keeping track of who is showing up with a cheque now, donors will expect to be remembered if this party forms the government on May 9.

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