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BC Liberals return nearly $40,000 of controversial donations

Premier Christy Clark answers questions from the media during a press conference from her office at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., Monday, March 13, 2017.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

The BC Liberals returned 12 donations late last month worth almost $40,000 in the wake of a Globe and Mail investigation that found lobbyists and other power brokers donated in their own names with corporate money – a violation of one of the province's few limits on political fundraising.

The Liberals have previously said they are in the process of returning 43 donations worth $93,000, but the party has not released details of how it is identifying problem donors and the extent of the violations. As well, the Liberals said 30 people contacted the party to report "clerical errors."

The practice of lobbyists and others making indirect donations using the money of the companies they represent is now the focus of an RCMP investigation that is reviewing donations to all parties. A special prosecutor has also been assigned to the case.

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The prohibited donations detailed in the new data include four contributions totalling $12,350 that were returned to Woodfibre LNG, an Indonesian firm that is building a controversial liquefied natural gas plant near Squamish.

Woodfibre LNG's in-house lobbyist Byng Giraud and a less senior manager, Marian Ngo, donated more in their names to the Liberals over the past three years than the $69,500 given to the party by their company or its various affiliated corporate entities, as

highlighted last month in a Globe report about the party'sfundraising practices.

Jennifer Siddon, a spokeswoman for Woodfibre LNG, said in an e-mailed statement that her company is not making any further comment until the RCMP finish their work.

"Woodfibre LNG and Mr. Giraud have always been up front and transparent in reporting any donations," she said.

William Westeringh, managing partner at Toronto law firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin's Vancouver office, said the Liberals returned $13,000 at the end of last month to his company because he used his personal credit card last year to pay for a $10,000 table at the annual BC Liberal Leader's Dinner as well as a $3,000 table at an event for Justice Minister Suzanne Anton. "Initially, we reserved our firm table(s) and paid for the event(s) using my credit card, solely for the sake of convenience, and being unaware that the more appropriate approach would have been that payment was made directly to the BC Liberals by the firm," Mr. Westeringh said via e-mail. "When the credit-card bill arrived, the firm paid it as our participation at both of these events was always meant to be a firm initiative."

"The tax receipts issued by the BC Liberals in relation to each event was credited to the firm, again because it was a firm initiative."

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Emile Scheffel, spokesman for the BC Liberal Party, said Wednesday that the illegal donations were the ones the party identified before March 24. He would not explain how the businesses receiving their money back were involved with indirect donations.

The New Democrats say an internal review has so far identified five prohibited donations, but none of these were included in their annual report released this week. Both parties are expected to notify Elections BC of any other violations within 30 days of discovering them, according to provincial law.

Since the parties filed their annual reports at the end of last month, Elections BC has received seven e-mails providing more details on newer violations, according to agency spokesperson Andrew Watson.

"We are working to publish this information as soon as possible and will notify the public and the media when it is available," said Mr. Watson, noting his organization is also ramping up for the May 9 election.

The Liberals have drawn heavy criticism for refusing to put limits on the amount corporations and unions can donate to parties, often through cash-for-access fundraising events, and bring B.C.'s laws in line with the limits and rules adopted by Ottawa and other provinces.

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