Premier Christy Clark is paid tens of thousands of dollars each year by the BC Liberal Party – an income that is drawn from coffers infused by donor contributions and is in addition to the nearly $200,000 she earns annually as the head of government.
The Globe and Mail has learned that Ms. Clark is given between $30,000 and $50,000 a year from the BC Liberal Party for work she does for it throughout the year, including attending fundraising events. A spokesman with the Liberals of Ontario said that Premier Kathleen Wynne does not get a salary from the party. The BC NDP Party does not pay its leader anything, either. A spokesman for NDP Leader John Horgan said he has been reimbursed for a "couple of suits" during his time in the job.
The revelation about Ms. Clark's extra payments follows Globe reports that she has been appearing at intimate donor get-togethers at which well-heeled patrons pay large amounts of cash for a chance to get rare, private face time with the most powerful politician in the province.
NDP MLA David Eby says the fact the money the Liberals are paying the Premier comes from party fundraising events that she headlines and at which attendees can pay $20,000 or more to gain privileged access amounts to a direct benefit.
Mr. Eby has made a complaint with the province's conflict-of-interest commissioner over the cash-for-access events, charging that the Premier is clearly benefiting from her role at these sel-ect, secret dinners. Recently, a lawyer representing Ms. Clark filed a response to Mr. Eby's objection, suggesting that any donations made at the events at which the Premier has been in attendance do not pass the test of what constitutes a private interest under the conflict act.
Conflict commissioner Paul Fraser has yet to rule on the matter.
The Globe has also learned that Ms. Clark's lawyer is being paid with funds from the Liberal caucus – in other words, taxpayer dollars. It is the same taxpayer-funded revenue source that Ms. Clark's office raided in 2013 to help underwrite the ethnic outreach strategy that became a provincewide scandal.
Mr. Eby says it is unconscionable that the Premier is getting taxpayers to pay for her lawyers regarding a complaint that stems from her role at Liberal party fundraising events.
"It's a very serious issue that public funds are being used to defend the Liberals' fundraising methods in a bid to allow them to continue to raise funds in the way they see fit," Mr. Eby told The Globe. "That is definitely not what the money is intended for."
Under B.C. conflict-of-interest laws, the key requirements for a conflict to occur are that an official act or duty is being done and that it's being performed by somebody who is being given a direct benefit through the execution of those duties. Mr. Eby believes that there is no question his complaint meets those conditions.
"The Premier's lawyer is saying that my complaint does not speak to any duties or powers that she has or might exercise at these fundraising events," Mr. Eby said. "And they say that even if we did show that, there is no direct benefit, so there's no conflict or perceived conflict.
"I'm saying the powers she has are so obvious I didn't think I needed to detail them. She is the chair of cabinet. She sets the entire agenda. She decides when the discussion in cabinet is over so that means she can pull things off the agenda that would hurt her donors or put things on the agenda that would help her donors."
Besides the salary she gets paid by the Liberals, the other direct benefit the Premier receives from the high-yield fundraising events, according to Mr. Eby, is money that her Kelowna-Westside constituency association receives from party funds accumulated through the same donor events. Mr. Eby says that previous rulings by conflict commissioners in British Columbia have determined that a benefit to a members' constituency amounts to a direct benefit under the act.
Ms. Clark has come under fire for her cash-for-access events, ones that helped the party raise a record $10-million in 2015. The party said it intends on holding many more over the next 14 months in the lead up to the 2017 election.
The same type of functions caused a political storm in Ontario recently too. As a result, Ms. Wynne immediately banned them and announced that the province will move to prohibit all corporate and union donations in the future.
Ms. Clark, meantime, has said she will continue to hold private fundraisers and will not ban corporate and union donations. British Columbia has arguably the most lax campaign finance laws in the country. The Liberals refuse to disclose the identity of those attending the private meetings with the Premier or how much they are paying for that access. The Globe determined independently what the price tag was for some fundraising dinners with the Premier.
The Liberal party has said it is considering reporting on donations more often than once a year.