The Green MLA who helped shape British Columbia's campaign finance reform bill says his caucus must learn from a public backlash to the proposed legislation.
Adam Olsen, the BC Green caucus spokesperson for democratic reform, said the inclusion in the bill of a taxpayer-funded subsidy to political parties is defensible, but was poorly explained to the public.
Premier John Horgan was joined by Green Leader Andrew Weaver to introduce the bill as an end to "big money" political donations on Sept. 18, but both leaders left it to Attorney-General David Eby to defend the surprise inclusion of the public subsidy.
The NDP were immediately placed on the defensive, as Mr. Horgan had emphatically declared prior to the provincial election that his campaign finance proposals – to end corporate and union donations to political parties – would not require public subsidies.
That policy flip-flop quickly became the main focus of news commentary, and Mr. Olsen said the immediate feedback to his party from constituents and supporters ranged from anger to discomfort.
He said however the bill does match the values on campaign finance reform that the BC Greens embraced during the last election.
"It's important that we are clear from the outset what a piece of legislation is trying to accomplish. I think there is some learning, perhaps from the government but definitely from us," Mr. Olsen said in an interview. "We have a responsibility, we will look at what we need to do in terms of how we communicate what is trying to be accomplished – we need to be fully transparent."
He said the party reached out to its critics after the bill was introduced, and has been successful in defending the changes.
The Greens have agreed to support a minority NDP government and, as part of that deal, Mr. Olsen was involved in discussions over the summer around what the new law would include. He said he had pushed hard to impose strict limits on individual donations as part of the bill, and it emerged during those negotiations that the jurisdictions with strong limits on private donations also provided public subsidies.
He said the system proposed in the bill is based on voters' ballot-box choices, and is a reasonable way to meet the goal of reducing the "outrageous" amount of money that is being spent in B.C. elections. "You are strengthening your support for the vote you cast," he said.
The legislation would introduce a public subsidy tied to votes received in the most recent election. The subsidy would start at $2.50 a vote next year, decreasing to $1.75 a vote in 2022, when the subsidy would be reviewed. As well, the bill proposes an election expense refund to parties. Combined, those measures will cost taxpayers a minimum of $27-million over the next five years.
The Opposition Liberals say they will introduce an amendment later this month that aims to remove the public subsidies from the bill.
However, Andrew Wilkinson, the Liberals' lead critic on the bill, would not say if his party would turn down the money, should the bill pass into law without amendments.
"We have got to see where the situation sits after the bill is finished, once we know the lay of the land," he said in an interview. "The party and the caucus will have to sort it out."
The BC Liberals are in the midst of a leadership contest following the resignation of Christy Clark. At least one candidate, Todd Stone, has said the Liberal party should not take the subsidy no matter what the law provides. Mr. Wilkinson said he would not make the same commitment until the bill is passed into law.