Skip to main content

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver speaks to supporters at election headquarters at the Delta Ocean Pointe on election night in Victoria on Wednesday.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

The BC Greens' soliciting five-figure donations from prominent individuals underscores how – even with a ban on corporate and union donations – rich donors can play an outsized role in the politics of B.C., critics argue.

Last week, the party confirmed it had approached "three or four" people about the possibility of donating up to $30,000 during the campaign, noting the largest donation the Greens received was $20,000 from a person "whose family is related to the real estate industry" that they refused to name. Duff Conacher, co-founder of non-partisan Democracy Watch non-profit, said the Greens have banned any donations from businesses or unions, but these large donations illustrate how "big money" interests will seek to exert influence on parties as long as there isn't a provincial law capping such gifts at an amount reasonable to an average person.

"[Former prime minister] Paul Martin said 13 years ago 'Money is the mother's milk of politics,' and all the parties and candidates try to raise as much as they can because they think it gives them an advantage," said Mr. Conacher, whose organization is based in Ottawa.

"[The large donation to the Greens] undermines their commitment and it shows that funnelling will happen.

"They couldn't go to corporations and unions so what did they do? They went to the executives."

Dermod Travis, executive director of IntegrityBC, a non-partisan government watchdog, said some Green supporters are rightly shocked that party brass sought out large donations from individuals.

Green Leader Andrew Weaver "let people down," said Mr. Travis, who has been tracking donations to all parties and studying this issue over the past year.

Campaign-finance reform was a major issue on the campaign trail, and a repeated talking point of Mr. Weaver. The Greens have made banning union and corporate donations a non-negotiable stipulation in exchange for the party's support in a minority government situation. Both the Liberals and the NDP are currently in negotiations with Mr. Weaver in an effort to persuade him to join forces with them.

The BC Liberals declined, again, to comment on the issue Sunday. Last week, the deputy director of the New Democrats, Glen Sanford, said as long as there is no cap on individual gifts and corporate and union donations are allowed, big money will "have an impact on all political parties."

The Greens advocate that B.C. should put a strict cap on individual donations in line with what the federal government has: $1,500 for every individual, for each party.

But, Mr. Conacher said, other jurisdictions have proven that even this limit is too high and won't stop corporations or unions from donating much larger sums through their executives and their family members.

Quebec banned corporate and union donations more than 30 years ago, but an audit of campaign financing commissioned by the province from 2006 to 2011 found $12.8-million was likely funnelled through individuals on behalf of businesses and unions during those years.

"They didn't prosecute people, because when you go and ask a business executive 'Was that your own money and did you decide yourself to give to the party?' They say, 'Yes,'" Mr. Conacher said. "You can't prove it was funnelled.

"It's like a smoke screen that covers up the influence of big money because it's so difficult to track down whether the person giving it is tied to some business or union."

The City of Toronto banned corporate and union donations in 2009 and suddenly "a whole bunch of executives and their spouses and their children were giving $800 each," he said.

The best way to counteract this phenomenon is to cap donations at an amount low enough to be palatable for a person making the national average pre-tax income of $45,000, he said, pointing to Quebec's limit of $100.

British Columbia has its first minority government in 65 years, as the Liberals captured 43 seats over the NDP’s 41 in Tuesday’s election. Liberal Leader Christy Clark says the results mean voters want parties to work together.

The Canadian Press