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Ban on big money in politics could be delayed by lobby reform: BC NDP

David Eby’s first priority as Attorney-General is to reform campaign finance laws to ban such donations as well as set limits on individual contributions, according to the mandate letter from Premier John Horgan released on Monday night.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

New Democrats say their upcoming legislation to rid B.C. politics of big money by banning corporate and union donations could be delayed by an overhaul of lobbying rules happening at the same time.

David Eby's first priority as Attorney-General is to reform campaign finance laws to ban such donations as well as set limits on individual contributions, according to the mandate letter from Premier John Horgan released on Monday night.

On Tuesday, Mr. Eby said his government hopes to table a blanket ban on corporate and union donations as quickly as possible in the legislative session that begins this fall, but it is still deciding whether to wrap lobbying reform – another core priority – into that legislation, which could slow down the process. And while the new rules are being crafted, the New Democrats will continue to accept money from unions and businesses so they do not cede any advantage to the BC Liberals, he said.

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"As far as I understand, there's total agreement on the core elements of the bill: the ban on union and corporate donations, strict limits on individual donations, a ban on foreign donations, addressing the third-party election expenditures and also reform of lobbying is part of it as well," Mr. Eby said.

"It's too early for me to say exactly what the legislative approach will be: will it all be in one bill or in different pieces."

"I think everybody's preference is that we do it all at once if we can, and I do know this is a shared priority from the Premier's office to the leader of the Green Party's office, and across government, according to the Liberals' Throne Speech," Mr. Eby said.

The New Democrats have faced criticism since the May 9 election for holding a private $325-a-ticket fundraising event with Mr. Horgan in Vancouver. (The Greens say they do not accept donations from businesses or unions.)

"The obvious concern from our perspective is that the BC Liberal fundraising machine continues full speed ahead and that a ban on donations on one party and not the other would place the Liberals at an advantage well into the future," Mr. Eby said.

The BC Liberals had long refused to limit political donations despite repeated criticism of the party's fundraising practices, including cash-for-access events in which donors paid up to $10,000 for a chance to sit down with the premier.

Earlier this year, the Liberals relented somewhat and pledged to form a panel after the election that would review overhauling campaign finance rules. Faced with imminent defeat at the hands of the NDP-Green alliance, the party reversed course last month in its final Throne Speech and pledged to ban corporate, union and third-party donations.

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The Liberals raised $13.1-million in donations last year, while the NDP raised $6.2-million. Nearly two-thirds of the money the Liberals raised – $7.7-million – came from a relatively small collection of corporate and business donors. Of the money donated to the NDP, $1.8-million was from unions.

Mr. Eby said the NDP government will also set to work reforming B.C.'s first-past-the-post electoral system by asking British Columbians whether they want proportional representation in a referendum next November in conjunction with municipal elections.

Another task set out in his mandate letter is to set up a new human-rights commission. The Liberals disbanded the previous one when they came to power 16 years ago.

The new body will help tackle issues of systemic racism and educate the public, Mr. Eby said, unlike the existing Human Rights Tribunal, which mediates and adjudicates individual complaints of discrimination.

"It will not become identical to the old human-rights commission, which became a bottleneck to some people being able to bring claims of discrimination," he said.

As well, Mr. Eby's mandate letter commits his ministry to cut down on court delays by increasing staffing and expanding the system of specialized First Nations courts created under the Liberals.

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