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B.C. Liberals reject changes that would diminish party donations

B.C. Government House Leader Mike de Jong, pictured on Feb. 16, said on Tuesday the province is working to change the disclosure rules to ensure donations are made public more frequently, but he said the Liberal government will not comply with calls from the opposition to ban corporate and union donations in British Columbia.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

While Ontario is moving to ban corporate and union political donations this spring, the governing B.C. Liberals are rejecting any changes that would diminish a source of cash that brought $5.3-million into the party's bank account last year.

On Tuesday, Elections BC released the annual financial disclosures for the province's political parties, showing the B.C. Liberals pulled in almost $10-million in political contributions in 2015. Corporate donations made up more than half of the party's income. It is expected that fundraising in the current year will eclipse that amount, as the party prepares for an election in May, 2017.

Government House Leader Mike de Jong said on Tuesday the province is working to change the disclosure rules to ensure donations are made public more frequently, but he said the Liberal government will not comply with calls from the opposition to ban corporate and union donations in British Columbia.

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"I don't want to pretend that is in the cards right now," Mr. de Jong told reporters.

The B.C. New Democrats will introduce a private members' bill on Wednesday that proposes to limit "big money" donations. If it ever became law, it would curtail the NDP's current fundraising practises as well: The disclosures show the New Democrats raised about $5-million in 2015. The largest source was individual donations, but the NDP does rely on large contributions from unions, and some individuals gave the party as much as $50,000.

Mr. de Jong said he hopes to enact changes to the disclosure rules "as soon as possible." B.C. Premier Christy Clark promised to implement "real time" campaign finance disclosure last week after The Globe and Mail reported on Liberal fundraising events at which individuals paid $10,000 or more to gain access to the Premier in a private, informal setting.

Faced with similar revelations, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is promising to cancel all of her private fundraisers and is asking her cabinet ministers to do the same pending new campaign finance laws to be introduced this spring.

Mr. de Jong said British Columbia will not follow suit, as banning corporate donations would likely require public financing to replace them.

"I don't believe the majority of British Columbians would a favour a change that included taking tax dollars and allocating them to political parties on the basis of some formula that would have to be determined," he said.

In a letter to B.C.'s Chief Electoral Officer, Keith Archer, the province has asked the independent agency to calculate how much monthly or quarterly financial disclosure would cost. Under the current rules, the parties are required to identify contributors once a year, and although the dates of the donations are included, there is no way to determine how they were collected.

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Dec. 22, 2015, appeared to be a singularly profitable day for the B.C. Liberal Party, with more than $435,000 donations recorded, mostly in the $5,000 to $50,000 range. But the annual disclosures do not show where those donations were made, and party spokesperson Jillian Stead said that just happened to be the day party officials made a bulk deposit.

David Eby, the NDP MLA who last week asked B.C.'s Conflict Of Interest Commissioner to investigate the Premier's cash-for-access fundraisers, said the changes promised by Ms. Clark will do nothing to shed light on how donations are generated.

"I don't think the measures will have any impact on her current fundraising strategies, including her private parties," Mr. Eby said.

The Opposition's proposed alternative – to ban corporate and union donations and cap individual contributions – would not necessarily require public funding to fill the void, he added.

"That's certainly an option that is out there, but right now the discussion is about donations from individuals with a strict cap. It would mean less money spent on campaign advertising, and I don't see the public having a huge problem with that."

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