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Christy Clark’s private ‘allowance’ from B.C. Liberals is no joke

It is fair to ask whether one of the reasons B.C. Premier Christy Clark steadfastly refuses to ban corporate donations as other provinces have is because it could impact the amount of money she receives from her party for being leader.

It is not an insignificant amount.

As the Globe and Mail disclosed this week, the Premier receives tens of thousands of dollars in annual income from the Liberals for work that she does for the party. A major component of that work is fundraising, including attending exclusive dinners where guests pay $20,000 and sometimes more for the privilege of chatting with the most powerful politician in the province over dinner and drinks.

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Last year, the Premier helped the party raise nearly $10-million. The party, in turn, took some of that money – $50,000, in fact – and gave it to Ms. Clark for her efforts. Since becoming Leader in 2011, the Liberals have handed Ms. Clark more than $277,000 in what they blithely refer to as a "stipend." In 2015, her "stipend" jumped from $45,000 to $50,000 – an increase of 11 per cent. I don't recall what the cost of living was that year, but I doubt it rose by that much.

It should also be noted, that Ms. Clark's "stipend" is more than many British Columbians make in a year.

Ms. Clark and her party see no problem with the Premier attending dinners where only the rich get access, dinners where attendees can bend Ms. Clark's ear about any issue on their mind, and then the Premier getting paid out of the pool of funds generated by these very donor events. The Premier does not appear to see the direct benefit she is receiving as a result of her attendance at these exclusive, cash-for-access fundraisers.

Increasingly, the BC Liberals are an ethical outlier when it comes to this sort of stuff. The majority of provinces have banned or are in the process of banning union and corporate donations. Ontario was the latest, a move incited by outrage over the same type of private fundraisers that Ms. Clark is headlining. In Ontario, Premier Kathleen Wynne said she wouldn't attend them any more and vowed to take big money out of politics.

Not B.C.

A check by The Globe of other provincial leaders in the country shows again that what the BC Liberals are doing is highly irregular. Premier Brad Wall in Saskatchewan is the only other provincial leader who gets an allowance from his party over and above his government salary. The amount he receives – $37,000 – is disclosed. That is not the case in British Columbia. The reason there are only two leaders who get this kind of political top-up is because it looks horrible.

When it was discovered that Quebec Liberal leader Jean Charest was receiving a similar annual payout from his party years ago it was a scandal. The practice ended immediately.

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In British Columbia, the matter was raised in Question Period on Wednesday. The Liberals mostly laughed their way through the Opposition questions. You can tell Ms. Clark and her Liberal colleagues do not take this issue seriously nor believe it will hurt them at the polls. The Premier smiled as her response to questions about her Liberal Party income morphed into a soliloquy about the economy. There didn't appear to be a single person on the government benches taking the matter seriously.

What Ms. Clark fails to understand is that this is serious. There is a matter of grave public interest here. The Premier, the head of government, is selling access through party fundraising events. That is without dispute. And she is benefiting from the proceeds that access generates. It is a clear conflict. And yet, she and her party treat it like a big joke.

The Liberals say they have been open about the "allowance" she gets from the Liberals as it is mentioned on her disclosure statement. But she doesn't disclose how much she gets. That has only come out as a result of The Globe and Mail's stories. I asked the Liberal Party how much her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, received over the previous 10 years he was leader but did not get a response. The party is open only when it's forced to be.

One other thing to consider about all this: The people whose donations fund Ms. Clark's Liberal Party salary get a tax receipt. In other words, taxpayers are subsidizing the $50,000 income that the Premier's party gives her on top of the $200,000 citizens are already paying her as the head of government.

I wonder how most people feel about that?

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