Premier John Horgan's surprise decision to abandon a pre-election commitment not to use public funding to usher in campaign-finance reform can be traced to the BC Green Party's push for a strict limit on individual political contributions, say party insiders close to the talks.
The campaign-finance bill introduced this week includes all the NDP's promised prohibitions on corporate, union and out-of-province donations to political parties in British Columbia. But the inclusion of a public allowance to the province's main parties contradicts a firm promise from Mr. Horgan prior to the May election.
In February, weeks before the election campaign began, Mr. Horgan denied that his campaign-finance plans would require taxpayer subsidies to political parties. Referring to then-premier Christy Clark, Mr. Horgan said: "In all of her distortions last week, one of them was she said my preference was taxpayers pay for political parties. That's just not the case," he said then. "It's up to the independent B.C. head of elections and the committee that will be struck to take a look at all options and bring forward the best one for B.C."
But the bill introduced on Monday will cost taxpayers roughly $6-million a year over the four-year election cycle. It may be phased out after the next election, and the NDP says it is intended as a temporary measure. There was no provision for an independent committee to look at other options and the measure to reimburse election expenses to parties does not have a sunset clause.
For a second day, the Premier was hammered by the Opposition Liberals in Question Period on Wednesday for his policy flip-flop.
"Government arrogance is taking over from common decency," said Opposition House Leader Mike de Jong. "He has broken his word."
Under the pact that allows the minority NDP to govern, the Greens were consulted over the summer on the drafting of the campaign-finance bill. Their team brought five points to the talks, and a key issue was that the Greens wanted to adopt the lowest individual donation limits in the country.
The Greens sought to match the $100-a-year limit in Quebec. The NDP proposed a $3,000 limit that would mirror Alberta's.
The two sides looked at jurisdictions in Canada with the lowest individual contribution limits, and concluded that all those models included a public-funding component. That became the agreed-upon "best practices." The two sides settled on a $1,200 cap – making it the second-lowest after Quebec, but with a per-vote public allowance starting at $2.50 a vote to qualified parties.
Although the Greens did not see the final bill until it was tabled, Attorney-General David Eby said on Wednesday the Greens played an important role in drafting the bill.
"We involved the Greens from the very beginning of the discussion of this bill. We had discussions around the transition funding, we had discussions around the amount of the limit," he said. He said he could not comment on specifics about which side advanced the public-funding model. "Our agreement with the Greens is that those discussions are confidential."
This is not the first time Mr. Horgan's fledgling government has stumbled over the gap between what he promised during the election last spring, and what he is able to deliver as the leader of a minority government.
Since the NDP and the Greens inked a co-operation pact that allows the NDP to govern with a minority of seats in the legislature, Mr. Horgan has had to water down, delay and now outright flip-flop on campaign promises.
Funding for the NDP's $10-a-day daycare plan and a $400-a-household renter's subsidy was supposed to begin this year, but both those platform commitments have been postponed until the new year, subject to further negotiations with the Greens and stakeholders. Similarly, the pledge to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour is under review.
Green Leader Andrew Weaver has bluntly called the NDP's campaign promises "irrelevant." No one won the last provincial election, he argues, and therefore none of the parties can say they were elected to deliver on any specific promise.
Mr. Horgan acknowledges that the reality facing his minority government is far different from the circumstances had he won a majority on May 9.
"We are in a minority situation, we canvassed these issues with the Green party, I'm unapologetic about that," Mr. Horgan told reporters earlier this week when asked about his flip-flop on public funding for parties. "We're working together to bring comprehensive change to get big money out of politics."
Although the agreement with the Greens ensures the NDP can maintain the confidence of the House on essential matters such as the budget, any new legislation needs to be crafted in a way that will bring the Greens – or the opposition Liberals – along in support.