For weeks now, B.C. Premier Christy Clark has been proudly trumpeting her Liberal Party's bold foray into the world of campaign finance transparency.
British Columbia is famously one of the last democratic jurisdictions on the Earth that has virtually no rules when it comes to donating to political institutions. Parties can accept money from just about anyone – even people who don't live in the province but may want to hand the Liberals tens of thousands of dollars in the hope it may pay off one day.
It is also acceptable for Ms. Clark to attend private fundraising dinners at the posh home of some supporter where she breaks bread with a handful of millionaires who have paid thousands of dollars in exchange for exclusive and potentially lucrative access to the most powerful politician in the province.
While these "pay-to-play" events have been denounced across the country, Ms. Clark has been steadfast in her support of them. And why wouldn't she? Her party benefits enormously from the current rules. Last year alone, the Liberals took in more than $12-million in donations, with the vast majority coming from corporations and the rich.
In an attempt to satiate some of the public criticism over the issue, Ms. Clark this year introduced something called "real time reporting." What this amounts to is the party disclosing the names of donors ahead of when it has to under provincial laws. And for this, the Liberals expect a huge pat on the back.
Come on everyone, get up and give them a big round of applause.
The only problem is, what the Liberals have done in the name of openness is nothing of the sort – especially as it pertains to the appalling and offensive cash-for-access dinners Ms. Clark and her cabinet ministers attend. We still don't know the identity of those who have paid vast sums of money for entrée the average citizen can only dream of.
The Trudeau government has been under fire for the same thing in recent months – even though the most anyone can pay to attend a private fundraising dinner at the federal level is $1,500 and not the unlimited amount a person can fork over to the B.C. Liberals to get special attention from Ms. Clark. The public outrage that these events have generated has apparently had an impact on the Prime Minister.
As The Globe and Mail first disclosed Friday, Mr. Trudeau is ending these private confabs in their current form. The government will soon introduce legislation that will ensure all future fundraisers involving the Prime Minister and members of his cabinet be conducted in accessible locations that will be advertised publicly. A report will also have to be produced after any such event outlining how many people attended and how much cash was raised. The media will be allowed to cover the gathering as well.
Now contrast that with what the B.C. Liberals are doing. It is a complete and utter joke.
Recently, Ms. Clark stopped the annual $50,000 cash payment she was receiving from her party from the proceeds of the fundraising events she and other members of her government were headlining. Even though it was a practice only one other premier in the country subscribed to – Brad Wall in Saskatchewan is the other – Ms. Clark portrayed her decision as one prompted by her government's desire to put an end to the public "distraction" the issue had become.
In other words, it was not inspired by some nagging moral doubt creeping into her thinking.
That would be asking too much.
B.C. Liberals I've talked to seem to be divided on this matter. Some see their party's willful blindness around cash-for-access and campaign financing as a potential problem in the upcoming election. A big one. They are concerned about the smugness and indifference with which Ms. Clark and her colleagues treat the issue.
Then there are others who believe that while it may not be morally defensible, the practice of allowing the rich and powerful to have an outsized role in the outcome of elections in B.C. is simply not an issue that is top of mind with most voters.
While it may be wrong, and while it may be an untenable position to have to defend, it's unlikely to cost them an election. Consequently, there is no point in abandoning a practice that gives the Liberals such a clear electoral advantage over their opponent.
With Ms. Clark, it ultimately comes down to one thing: maintaining her grip on power. And she is evidently prepared to abandon any principles she may have to do precisely that.