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Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason.
Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason.

GARY MASON

BC Liberals’ stance on donations an insult to voters Add to ...

A parliamentary committee in Australia is expected to soon report on the fate of foreign donations to political parties. Many signs point to the group recommending their immediate abolition.

Foreign donations became an issue in the last general election when it was revealed that Chinese interests gave more than $5-million to Aussie politicians. It caused such an uproar that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull vowed these type of financial pledges would never be allowed again and that the only people who would be able to contribute money to political parties would be Australian citizens.

It was also disclosed that foreign corporations were finding ways to hide their donations to Australian officials, or in some cases the extent of them, through other entities. And if that sounds familiar it should; that is precisely what a recent Globe investigation uncovered is taking place in British Columbia.

Read more: Wild west: How B.C. lobbyists are breaking one of the province’s few political donation rules

Most of the commentary on the appalling state of vital democratic tenets in B.C. has focused on the obscene degree to which the wealthy, through donations primarily to the governing Liberal party, have an outsized role in the outcome of elections. The rich also have exclusive access to the highest power in the province, Premier Christy Clark; all that is required is a healthy donation, say $10,000, to attend a private function at which Ms. Clark is the prized attraction.

It is an unconscionable situation that wouldn’t be allowed in some tinpot dictatorships.

Of course, B.C. also encourages foreign donations. Some companies, such as U.S.-headquartered Kinder Morgan, have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Liberals, which a suspicious person might suggest was an investment that paid off. The company got its pipeline approval, which depended, in part, on the B.C. government’s okay. Meantime, Woodfibre LNG, a subsidiary of a Singapore-based conglomerate that recently received B.C.’s approval to proceed with a major liquefied natural gas project in the province, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Liberals in recent years – or at least that’s the amount donated in its name.

The Globe probe showed that a couple of Woodfibre employees donated nearly $75,000 to the Liberal party over the past few years, in their name, while getting reimbursed by the company at a later date. In other words, the donations helped mask the degree to which Woodfibre has been contributing to the Liberals.

Again, a skeptic might suggest this was because Woodfibre wanted to obfuscate the degree to which the company is trying, for self-interested reasons, to help the ruling party stay in power.

Any way you look at it, it’s bad. How can it be right for a foreign entity to be playing a role in the outcome of an election in another country? Isn’t that what they’re talking about in the United States right now? Aren’t people upset because it appears Russia might have been doing something to help the side it wanted to win the election (see President Donald Trump) actually win?

But in B.C., the land where the government has no scruples, this is completely fair ball. The Liberals will take money from whomever is willing to fork it over, no matter how terrible it appears, no matter how unethical and morally bankrupt it is. Who cares if it compromises the province’s sovereignty?

One footnote to the affairs in Australia is the major push that is under way to have the prospective foreign-donation ban apply to activist organizations who play important roles in the outcome of elections and yet are primarily funded from abroad. Again, if this is something that rings a bell there’s a reason.

There has been discussion in this country before about the role U.S. foundations are playing in Canadian elections, through their funding of left-wing activist organizations such as the Dogwood Initiative and LeadNow. If they had to play under the rules Australia appears poised to bring in, they would not be able to accept money from U.S. entities, such as Tides, which forms a formidable bulk of their revenue base.

It does seem a little hypocritical for Dogwood to be complaining about Kinder Morgan playing a role in the B.C. election through its donations to the BC Liberals, when it is receiving money from the United States to fight for causes aligned with interests there. The bottom line is there should be no circumstance in this country in which it is acceptable for foreign business entities to finance political parties in the hopes of influencing elections and furthering their corporate ends.

If nothing else, it shows a complete lack of respect for Canadian voters who should be the only ones determining election outcomes in their country.

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Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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