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gary mason

The electoral system in our country is broken. Not just the first-past-the-post method of forming governments, which is flawed and ultimately unfair to minority parties. But also the rules and regulations governing campaign financing, ones that have created a political process that favours the few and the rich.

And that is wrong on every level.

In Ontario, we learned this week that cabinet ministers are being assigned secret fundraising targets, hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases. This has created the sorry spectacle of members of the Liberal government's executive council going cap-in-hand to the same corporate and union interests with whom they have to deal in the course of carrying out their public duties. Can you say inherent conflict of interest?

In British Columbia, we have a spectacle of a different sort: private tête-à-têtes with Liberal Premier Christy Clark in exchange for a healthy donation to her party. Those campaign contributions can range from $5,000 to $20,000 or more, depending on how swank and exclusive the affair.

A dinner hosted recently by the chancellor of Simon Fraser University, for instance, cost 10 attendees $10,000 each. But what a splendid evening they all had, I'm sure, one that came with the chance to bend the Premier's ear about any issue on a person's mind. Problems that someone such as Ms. Clark perhaps could solve with a single phone call.

It is all legal. That is what Ms. Clark and Premier Kathleen Wynne will tell you. They are not breaking any laws. And, of course, they are right. But what they are doing is surely morally unjustifiable and ethically wrong. You should never be able to buy access to the political leadership of this country, in

any circumstances. And at some point, the public has to take a stand against this type of

unconscionable conduct.

It does not have to be like this. It doesn't. Nothing says we have to accept conventional wisdom that this is just the way democracies work: Big money has always greased the wheels of big political machines and always will. The rich will always gain entry to power circles in a way the great unwashed never will. That is the first law of the political jungle in countries such as Canada and the United States, isn't it? It will never change, right?

Who says?

There are indications people are getting fed up with being played for dupes. I think that is how you explain Bernie Sanders to some extent. The rogue U.S. Democrat who is seeking the presidential nomination has refused to take money from

SuperPacs, from wealthy corporations, because he says he believes it is just a form of organized corruption: I'll scratch your back, Bernie, you scratch mine. Mr. Sanders has said no to that, and has proved you can launch a credible campaign with fundraising mostly from individuals.

Why can't we make that a universal rule in this country? The system we have is rigged in favour of those with the deepest wallets. That is a simple fact. The Liberals in Ontario and British Columbia both refuse to ban union and corporate donations the way the federal Conservatives did in 2006 and the way provinces including Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and Nova Scotia all have. Why? Because they like the system the way it exists now; it wildly favours their parties, especially in British Columbia (Ms. Wynne said on Tuesday she plans to toughen Ontario's rules around political donations in the fall. We'll see.)

The B.C. Liberals have defended their access-for-the-rich fundraising opportunities on the grounds that the names of the people who donate to the party are published annually. Yes. But what we don't know is who on that list made their donation in exchange for rare, one-on-one time with Premier Clark? How do we know attendance at one of these events did not pay off in a big way for someone's company? We don't.

In British Columbia, the provincial NDP has committed to banning corporate and union donations should it get into power. It must also commit to prohibiting the disgraceful practice of offering access to the Premier (or a cabinet minister too, for that matter) for a price. It needs to stop the two-tiered approach to politics where the rich get access to the most powerful holders of office, while the rest of us get told to stand in a line the front of which no one ever reaches.

Political power should not be for sale in this country. Right now it is.

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