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Donor lists reveal B.C. Liberals’ greed for power

In the same week that the Ontario government was committing to a complete overhaul of campaign financing regulations, Elections BC was releasing donation numbers from last year that show why the province's Liberal government adamantly refuses to change the rules of engagement in the West.

According to the latest records, the Liberals raised nearly $10-million, half of that from corporate donations. It is a staggering amount of money for a province of four million people in an off election year. A political party almost always raises the most money in the year before an election, which would be this one. The $10-million is more than twice what the Opposition New Democrats were able to rake in.

Not surprisingly, the names of prominent real estate developers and their companies who donated large amounts of money to the governing party were littered throughout the documents. Canucks owner and developer Francesco Aquilini donated more than $175,000 through Aquilini companies in which he was listed as principal officer. Other developers contributed, cumulatively, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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The Liberals have been good for the development and real estate industries. In the face of skyrocketing housing costs, the government has mostly taken a do-nothing approach, expressing the view that any measure that dampens the rise in prices would hurt the equity in people's homes. The answer, the government insists, is more supply. And who is going to cheer that policy direction more than anyone? Developers who make hundreds of millions of dollars building that supply. And the real estate marketers who sell all the units, such as Bob Rennie, the chair of fundraising for the Liberals and himself a contributor of tens of thousands of dollars to the party last year.

Sure, some of these same developers donated to the NDP as well, but not nearly to the same extent. And frankly, many of those donations are for appearances only. The Liberals, in fact, do not object, because it allows the government to say: "Hey, they're giving to the other guys too, so what's the big deal?"

But anyone with half a brain knows that argument is a complete and utter sham.

Premier Christy Clark was not in the capital on Tuesday to respond to the fundraising totals or defend the government's position not to end union and corporate donations and cap individual contributions, as the Ontario government has now committed to doing. It was left to her finance minister, Mike de Jong, to endorse the party line.

Mr. de Jong is one of the more reasonable members of Ms. Clark's cabinet. Which is why he did not seem completely comfortable trying to defend an indefensible position. The government's rationale of the current system amounts to the following: a) The public is not complaining; b) Reformed campaign-finance systems often rely on a public subsidy, and the B.C. public would not want that; and c) The public has a pretty good nose for when something is fishy, and they have not smelled anything fishy with the current disclosure rules in place.

Right. Like the public has the time to go through the donors' list to see if they can detect a correlation between public policy and certain donations. What a ridiculous premise. The ever-shrinking number of reporters devoted to covering politics in B.C. means even they have less time to scrutinize this stuff properly, let alone members of the public.

Clearly, Ms. Clark has not had the same pangs of guilt about taking advantage of a deeply flawed and terribly undemocratic system as her Ontario counterpart, Kathleen Wynne. Sure, Ms. Wynne had her come-to-Jesus moment thanks to some heat from the media, but at least she had the courage to do the right thing, in the face of opposition from members of her own party.

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And you can certainly bet that Ms. Clark has members in her caucus, a vast majority no doubt, urging her not even to consider for a second bringing in radical reforms to the campaign financing system in B.C. The party wants to continue running the province. The MLAs want to keep their jobs. And the best way to do that is to retain a system that gives the Liberals a clear and formidable advantage.

There is truly something disgraceful in the government's position on this issue. But the Liberals are not prepared to do anything that compromises the electoral advantage they hold, no matter how unseemly their greed for power appears.

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