Legislation to reform campaign financing in British Columbia is expected to be introduced this week, but won't stop the governing New Democrats from proceeding with a program of fundraising events that includes this week's high-profile levee with Premier John Horgan.
There are six fundraising events through Oct. 15, starting with Mr. Horgan's $525-a-plate levee on Friday in Vancouver, which will also feature other members of the NDP caucus.
The next night in Campbell River, Transportation Minister Claire Trevena will mingle with supporters who have paid $250 each to be there. And the fundraising calendar also includes events with MLAs Janet Routledge of Burnaby North and Ravi Kahlon of Delta North.
Glen Sanford, a vice-president for the BC NDP, said the party is fundraising within the current rules pending inevitable change, adding that as a party official he is not privy to the details of the new legislation.
"We've been clear all along that we play by the rules that exist. As soon as the rules change, we'll adhere to the new rules. We think the party should be on a level playing field," he said in an interview on Sunday.
Asked if the Premier's levee is proceeding, Attorney-General David Eby said last week that all parties are fundraising now under "the old rules" and suggested his planned legislation will address concerns about why it has taken so much time to put a bill together, even though the NDP repeatedly introduced private members' bills while in opposition aimed at clamping down on British Columbia's unfettered political fundraising.
"It is a comprehensive measure to make sure that 2017 was the last big-money election in B.C.," Mr. Eby said.
The Globe and Mail reported on the weekend that the new B.C. legislation will include an immediate ban on corporate and union donations that will be retroactive to the end of the last election as well as individual campaign donations of $1,200. Also donors will be able to split their donations between a party and candidate. There will also be a ban on foreign and out-of-province donations.
Mr. Horgan, last week, said political parties will have to continue raising money for their operations, but his government's planned ban on corporate and union donations means "there will not be significant influence from deep pockets."
Earlier this year, the then-governing Liberals were facing criticism for holding exclusive cash-for-acccess events at which donors paid thousands of dollars to meet then-premier Christy Clark. Ahead of the spring election, Mr. Horgan hosted a leader's levee he promised would be the "last supper."
After losing their governing majority in the May election, the Liberals have tabled a campaign-finance bill with elements of both NDP and Green Party proposals. However the two parties ignored the bill and forced a confidence vote that led to the end of the Liberals 16-year run in government. The Liberals have since tabled their bill again.
Dermod Travis, executive director of IntegrityBC, a non-partisan government watchdog, said the new legislation from the NDP government is going to challenge parties to explain to their members how, going forward, they will raise money from their members and British Columbians.
He said in an interview that he hopes parties will hold a wider range of events affordable to people with varied incomes, citing, for example, hot-dog roasts or picnics leaders would attend.
As for the NDP program of fundraising, he said it's inevitable. "It's a bit tone deaf, but the reality of the world. If the new government had come in faster with its legislation, it would have created a different perspective," he said.
"The fact that the bill has not been tabled [until now] gives the impression to some voters that the delay is the result of the party trying to sneak in a few more fundraising events. But I don't think this should be laid at the steps of the NDP."
Mr. Sanford said on Sunday that the party has not been briefed on the new fundraising legislation, but has been developing changes in its approach to raising money in line with expectations of such measures as a ban on corporate and union donations.
"We know, for sure, that our fundraising will have to rely more on individuals," he said.
He said he expects every party will have to increase the number of supporters it relies on for small, regular donations and make sure "historic" traditional donors give as much as they can.
Mr. Sanford said the NDP has traditionally relied on individual donations. "That's something we're going to have to develop further."
BC Liberal spokesman Emile Scheffel said the party, now facing a leadership race to replace Ms. Clark, is focused on transitioning to a more grassroots fundraising model given anticipated changes to election-finance laws.
Mr. Scheffel said, in a statement, that a few MLAs have lately held small-scale local fundraisers in their communities.
Stefan Jonsson, communications director for the BC Greens, said his party has been fundraising via a grassroots approach since it stopped accepting union and corporate donations a year ago. He said in a statement that the party stopped fundraising for several weeks after the election, but resumed at the end of June with a small monthly donation campaign.
"We continue to rely heavily on small donations from a wide swath of our supporters. We expect this grassroots approach to fundraising will continue to be an effective strategy going into the future and feel that we are well-positioned in this regard as the province transitions to modern political finance rules," Mr. Jonsson noted.
Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, Mr. Jonsson said, has avoided a role in fundraising. The party's other two MLAs have steered clear of fundraising efforts except for "one or two" fundraising e-mails sent in their names. As well, MLA Adam Olsen co-hosted a fundraising event at the recent party convention.