As soon as Monday, British Columbia will be put on a path that will change its politics forever. It will come in the shape of legislation that will reform the province's embarrassingly outdated campaign-finance rules.
The new government has finalized a bill that will transform the way elections are waged and how parties govern themselves, levelling a playing field that has been unfair for decades. Mostly, it will prevent the province's wealthiest citizens from having an outsized role in the outcome of elections and take "big money" out of B.C.'s political system.
While I have not seen the bill, after talking to a number of people who had input in its making, here's what I believe is in store for British Columbians:
An immediate ban on corporate and union donations that will be retroactive to the end of the last election. In other words, any donations of that nature since May 9 will not be allowed to stand and will have to be revoked.
Individual campaign-donation limits will be set at $1,200, far less than the $5,000 ceiling the Opposition Liberals were proposing in their private member's bill introduced this week. Quebec will still have the lowest individual limit in the country at $100. People will be able to split their donation total between a party and a candidate if they so desire. Also, an individual can give that donation limit to more than one party/candidate.
A ban on foreign and out-of-province donations. Party leaders will no longer be able to go to cities such as Calgary and Toronto to fundraise.
New rules around donations for party leadership contests.
Tighter regulations around third-party involvement in campaigns. While the government has limited control over third-party ads around particular issues, it does have much greater say over third-party ads of an overtly political nature. This part of the bill is aimed at stopping individuals from getting around the new spending limits by funding third parties (the equivalent of U.S. political action committees) to affect election outcomes, a development we've witnessed recently in Alberta.
The new legislation is expected to have an impact on non-profit organizations such as Leadnow and other groups that have taken active roles in election campaigns.
This bill will not affect municipal elections. However, the provincial government will make changes to a separate act that will put municipal politicians and parties under the same rules.
While there has been some anxiety over the delay in tabling the bill – it hasn't really been much of a wait – it's fair to say the new government underestimated how slow the bill drafting process would be.
Every word in legislation of this significance has meaning, as NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth said this week. It also has to pass muster with a constitutional review committee; the probability that some aspect of it will be legally challenged is high.
There had to be extensive consultation with the chief electoral officer, the person who is going to have to administer and oversee the bill on the ground. To that end, his office will receive additional funding in order to audit the activities of political parties and ensure they are playing by the new rules.
I think another factor that came into play was coming to terms with just how entrenched the old system was. For instance, how do you deal with the issue of unions granting employees leave to go work on a political campaign? How do you assess that work in terms of a financial contribution?
I guess we will soon find out.
And, of course, there was another element in the preparation of this historic bill: the Greens. The NDP's partner in this government had to be consulted on any aspects of the bill that had not already been mutually agreed upon.
While it's certainly fair to say that Attorney-General David Eby deserves the lion's share of the credit for the bill, the Greens and their leader, Andrew Weaver, should not be overlooked when it comes to doling out praise.
Mr. Weaver has been a tireless champion of this cause. And it's only right to note that his fingerprints are on this legislation too.
The paucity of campaign finance laws in British Columbia made the province an international laughingstock. Starting next week, it will shed its Wild West image once and for all.
Politics in B.C. will never be the same. This is a very good thing.