Of all the reaction to this week's ruling that cleared B.C. Premier Christy Clark of conflict-of-interest allegations, it was the leader herself who got closest to the truth. "The system works," Ms. Clark declared.
And indeed it does. But what the Premier omitted to add was that the system works primarily for herself and the BC Liberal Party.
It was evident from the outset that the province's Conflict of Interest Commissioner was going to have a difficult time finding fault with the pricey, private fundraisers that the Premier was discovered to be headlining, or the salary Ms. Clark is being paid by her party from funds drawn primarily from the same donor events. While ethically questionable – and that is an understatement – these arrangements are not illegal under the conflict-of-interest guidelines as they are written.
I think the best that NDP MLA David Eby and Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch – the two who laid complaints against the Premier – could have hoped for was an observation from watchdog Paul Fraser lamenting the inadequacy of the current conflict rules governing fundraising. Clearly, he did not feel comfortable venturing into this terrain, so fraught politically that it is, and so the closest he came was encouraging public debate about the matter.
Well, we know Ms. Clark (and her government) is not going to lead the charge on that front. The existing rules that allow the corporate community (massive supporters of the Liberals) and unions (which primarily support the NDP but to a far lesser extent financially) to have an outsized influence on the outcome of elections is not going to change under the current government. The Liberals will not be cowed or scared off by polls showing 86 per cent of the public favour taking big money out of politics.
Remember that polls have consistently shown that more than 90 per cent of the public, across the province, abhor the practice of shooting grizzly bears and allowing wealthy hunters to cut off their heads so they can be mounted on a plaque.
And yet the government continues to allow the bear hunt.I'm sure the fact that the Guide Outfitters Association of BC, the biggest lobby group in favour of the existing arrangement, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Liberal Party over the years is just a coincidence.
Nor does it bother this government that it increasingly finds itself out of sync with the rest of the country when it comes to the democratization of our electoral system. Just this week, Ontario's Liberal government introduced a raft of campaign finance reforms to make the system fairer. The proposed changes come after the government of Kathleen Wynne was caught up in very much the same cash-for-access fundraising schemes exposed by The Globe and Mail in B.C. But the response to these revelations by the two governments couldn't have been more different.
The NDP has vowed to change British Columbia's weak electoral financing laws if it wins the next election. (And that truly is an insult to the words weak and laws.) When it comes to campaign sponsorship in the province, it's a Wild West gong show where virtually anything goes – and does. The NDP believes it's time to fix a system that is clearly broken.
The Liberal government has equally pledged to keep things precisely the way they are, refusing to give up the enormous electoral advantage the current arrangement bestows on them. The NDP is likely to make the notion of fixing a corrupt electoral system a pillar of its election campaign. The Liberals are certain to make the next election exclusively about jobs, the economy and fiscal management – and their record on this front is unquestionably impressive.
In many respects, the choice for voters will be extraordinarily clear.
As I've said before, I don't know how important this issue is for voters, despite what the polls may say. When it comes to electoral reform, I tend to subscribe to the view held by Independent MLA Vicki Huntington, another fierce advocate for change. When asked to comment on why B.C. seems to be averse to making the kinds of changes other provinces are enacting on this front, she said: "We are like dinosaurs when it comes to moving into the modern political age."
Sadly, she's right.