This week saw two provincial premiers respond to a moral quandary in distinctively different ways.
Faced with the question of whether it was time to take big money out of politics, to end corporate and union donations and functions at which the rich get privileged access to the most powerful, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said enough was enough, even though the decision could have a deleterious effect on the future political ambitions of her party and government.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark took a stand-pat approach, defending her position by suggesting that there isn't necessarily a correlation between spending and a victorious outcome. Which then raises the question: If it doesn't offer an electoral advantage, why is her government so adamant about protecting a system that allows parties to raise millions from corporations and, to a lesser extent, unions?
The reason is because the existing rules favour Ms. Clark's Liberals and by a considerable degree. Amid the uproar over recent revelations by The Globe and Mail that the Premier is holding $20,000-a-plate private fundraising dinners for small groups of the wealthiest British Columbians, the latest financial disclosure statements were released by Elections BC.
It showed that in 2015, the Liberals raised $10-million, almost half of that from corporations. Among others, the documents were littered with the names of prosperous real estate developers who donated tens of thousands of dollars to the governing party, no doubt as a thank you for actively encouraging more residential building as the answer to high real estate costs. (Even though much of that added supply has done nothing to bring down the price of housing at all.)
The total was more than twice what the Opposition New Democratic Party was able to amass. If you want the sole reason Ms. Clark has no interest in changing the status quo, it is there in those numbers. A financial advantage of that dimension may not guarantee victory, but it gives a political party an enormous edge.
At a news conference, Ms. Clark's defence of maintaining the existing campaign finance protocols was rife with banalities and riddled with holes. She said her job is to represent all of the people of the province, whether they voted for her or not. And her government's job creation record is the best evidence that political fundraising has no bearing on policy decisions. Heck, the people getting those jobs may have even voted NDP in the last election.
And that's all anyone needs to know if they're worried about the fairness of the current election finance laws, she suggested.
Which of course is absurd and a complete red herring, and the Premier knows it. The issue is fundraising schemes that give the rich access to the most powerful politicians in the province, an entree that regular folks don't get. That admission is sold, for an extremely high price. And if you think British Columbia's wealthiest citizens are forking over tens of thousands of dollars to Ms. Clark and her party out of the goodness of their hearts, you're blindingly naive.
If nothing else, the rich are loading up Liberal coffers to help ensure a business-friendly government stays in power. The fact that B.C. has zero restrictions on campaign donations ensures that the elite will always be able to give the party of their choice a leg up going into any election. In a one-person, one-vote democracy, the rich get to exert an outsized influence on the outcome of an election through the financial muscle they can provide.
The Premier says she does not see this as undemocratic or problematic in any way. She insists that as long as her party discloses how much people contribute that is all that matters. She says there are limits on how much a party can spend during an election campaign in any event – ignoring the fact there are not such caps in place in the lead up to the writ period. And that is when the Liberals exercise the financial superiority that they have.
Ms. Wynne understood, finally, and with some coaxing from the media, how wrong a system like this is and has now vowed to change it. And in much the same way that the NDP's Rachel Notley has done in Alberta.
But Ms. Clark has no intention of providing the same type of moral leadership. Instead, she answers questions about the matter by pointing to people such as Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush as an example of a politician who lost despite outspending his rivals.
She said the same applied to the B.C. NDP in the 2013 general election campaign; it outspent the Liberals and also lost, she insisted. Except that wasn't the case at all. The Liberals outspent the NDP by $2-million in that election and have done so in all four elections they have won in the past 16 years.
They're not about to change that winning formula now. No matter how much of an ethical outlier the province increasingly becomes.