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BC Liberals disclose 2016 donation details amid heightened scrutiny

B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks during a news conference in Vancouver on June 29, 2016.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Six-figure corporate donations helped the BC Liberals bring in more than $12-million last year in the lead up to this spring's provincial election, as British Columbia's lax fundraising laws allowed developers, resource firms and other corporations to make what observers say are among the largest donations given to a political party anywhere in Canada.

The Liberals voluntarily released a breakdown last week of donors and their contributions for 2016 and the first two weeks of 2017, months ahead of when they would normally be released by the province's election agency. The disclosure follows criticism about the Liberal Party's fundraising practices, including hosting private cash-for-access dinners with Premier Christy Clark, that have fuelled a larger debate about the role of money in politics.

The list includes $200,000 contributions each from 2300 Kingsway Residences and John Redekop Construction, as well as a number of $100,000 donations from such parties as MCL Motors 2010, Teck Resources Limited and Seaspan ULC.

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Dermod Travis, executive director of the IntegrityBC non-partisan political watchdog organization, said large donations could not be given in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Nova Scotia and Manitoba given reforms in those provinces.

"Ordinary British Columbians can't afford to write out five-figure or six-figure cheques to get government attention," Mr. Travis said in an interview, suggesting government may pay more attention to companies that make such donations.

The donation information released last week was part of the Liberal Party's plan to post donations to the Internet within 10 days of deposits – a move the NDP has dismissed as a distraction from the government's opposition to banning corporate and union donations.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of the Ottawa-based Democracy Watch organization that has sought a court ruling to void a pair of conflict-of-interest rulings involving Premier Clark related to fundraising, said he is skeptical about suggestions that donations don't influence government policy.

"In B.C., the political game is tainted by this because the politicians can take these huge donations. It's just a bad idea," Mr. Conacher said in an interview.

Asked about the donation, Teck public-affairs director Doug Brown said in an e-mailed statement that the company supports government policies that encourage job creation, sustainable development and economic growth.

"We report out on our political contributions in an open and transparent manner. Our donations are a matter of public record and are made publicly available on an annual basis via applicable elections reporting websites and Teck's sustainability report."

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Goldcorp Inc., which donated $100,000 on Jan. 4, 2017, noted that it has no mines in B.C., but is headquartered in the province.

"Our employees are part of this community and we've been a philanthropic cornerstone supporting many organizations in Vancouver and everywhere we have operations," said a statement issued by corporate communications director Christine Marks.

"We support government policies that encourage responsible, sustainable natural resource development, economic growth and job creation," said the statement, adding all donations are a matter of public record via an annual report and on government web sites.

Seaspan's CEO Jonathan Whitworth said the firm has been a "long-time contributor and supporter" of both major B.C. parties and continues a dialogue with both today.

"The Premier and her government have been strong supporters of Seaspan and our employees throughout the national shipbuilding strategy process, which has created hundreds of direct and indirect jobs while stimulating the economy across British Columbia," Mr. Whitworth said in a statement, responding to questions.

He said his company has no problem with being in the spotlight over the disclosure of its donations. "We are fully aware of the public disclosure of political donations and have no problem with it."

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Mr. Connacher of Democracy Watch said the best path ahead would be to limit donations to an amount within the reach of most voters such as a sum between $100 and $200.

In 2016, the BC Liberals raised a total of about $12.4-million – $4.5-million of that from individuals and $7.9-million in corporate donations. In 2015, the party raised $3.3-million from individual donors and $6.5-million from corporations.

Ms. Clark promised more campaign-finance disclosure after stories in The Globe and Mail last spring revealed that part of her party's enhanced fundraising efforts ahead of the 2017 election included small, private gatherings with her where ticket prices reached $10,000 or more.

However, questions have also been raised about the provincial NDP's fundraising after a Nov. 24 resource-industry event at which attendees could pay $10,000 to dine with party leader John Horgan. The party declined to identify attendees.

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