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Editorials Money & politics (4): It’s business as usual in Saskatchewan

Brad Wall speaks to media one day after the Saskatchewan Party's election victory on April 5, 2016.

Michael Bell/The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan, the source province of some of Canada's most progressive politics and politicians, is remarkably regressive when it comes to the influence of money on a democracy. The province allows corporations, unions and individuals to donate unlimited amounts to political parties. The donors don't even have to live or work in the province, as long as they are Canadian citizens.

The consequences are stark. The Saskatchewan Party, led by Premier Brad Wall and in power since 2007, has a lock on corporate donations to political parties in the province.

From 2008 to 2011, the party received $6.1-million from businesses, while the opposition NDP received $951,000, according to a study published in 2012.

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In 2014, corporations gave $895,000 to the Saskatchewan Party, and $28,700 to the NDP. That financial support allowed the party to spend $2.3-million in 2014, three-and-a-half times more than the NDP, according to Elections Saskatchewan.

To further complicate matters, Saskatchewan does not have a lobbyist registry. There is no official record of who is visiting the legislature and to whom they are talking. Mr. Wall's government enacted the long overdue Lobbyists Act in 2014, but the registry is not expected to be up and running until June.

It is imperative that Mr. Wall reform his province's badly out-of-date party finance law. There is a growing perception that incumbent parties that rake in corporate donations are too beholden to their backers. Ottawa, Alberta, Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have all banned corporate and union donations. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised to do the same, after an ugly cash-for-access scandal came to light.

Mr. Wall should join this democratic movement and clean up Saskatchewan politics by ending corporate and union donations and limiting individual donations to $1,000 or less. His government should also limit third-party spending, and that of political parties, year-round. And he should set limits on donations to party leadership campaigns.

Until that happens, his government will be tainted by its reliance on corporate donors, and by the perception that some of its policies may be developed with those donors' interests in mind.

Note to readers: This editorial is part of a series examining party finance laws in every province and in Ottawa. Next up: Manitoba

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