Clark seeks independent review of political donations

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Premier Christy Clark reversed course Monday and responded to prolonged criticism of B.C. Liberal fundraising tactics by calling for an independent review of the province’s electoral financing system.


Clark, who earlier said B.C. was well-served by the existing rules, ordered the deputy attorney general to investigate ways to establish a non-partisan panel and report back this summer — providing the B.C. Liberals win re-election in May.


She said appointees unanimously approved by the legislature would review reforms in other jurisdictions, receive submissions from the public and political parties, and make recommendations every eight years.


“Let’s take it away from politicians who have a vital interest in keeping a system or changing a system in a way that works for them, and give it to independent people.”


The move marked an about-face by Clark, whose party has been under fire for holding “cash-for-access” fundraisers in which wealthy donors pay thousands of dollars to attend exclusive dinners with the premier and her ministers.


The B.C. NDP, B.C. Green Party and Independent Vicki Huntington have all called for bans on corporate and union donations, but, until now, Clark has largely defended the status quo.


B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver rejected Clark’s latest proposal, saying it merely “kicks the can down the road” until after the election without committing to serious reform.


“It’s all about a political game for her . . . being seen to actually do something when actually not really wanting to do something,” he said.


NDP Leader John Horgan said Clark has a habit of ignoring recommendations from independent bodies, including her own climate action team.


“I guess it’s another case, as always with Christy Clark and the Liberals — why in the world would we believe them now?” he said.


“It’s always after the election with Christy Clark. She’s had six years to do this and she hasn’t. And here we are, literally days from the rising of the legislature, weeks from the election and the premier now has had a conversion — a death-bed conversion — on financing.”


Horgan said that if Clark were serious about reforming the system, her government could support his private member’s bill currently before the legislature. The Get Big Money Out of Politics Act would ban corporate and union donations and strike a panel led by the province’s chief electoral officer to conduct a comprehensive review of political party financing.


“I certainly think the premier should get on board. We could pass it today.”


Clark, however, argued that by appointing an independent panel, rather than passing bills such as those before the legislature, B.C. will avoid a “piecemeal” approach to financing reform.


“Let’s look at it holistically and come up with a set of changes every eight years,” she said.


Her government then introduced its own piece of legislation Monday that will require political parties to report donations within 14 days of their deposit. The bill lowers the threshold for reporting from a single donor to $100 from $250 and requires parties to post fundraising functions within five days of an event.


Clark said the government introduced the bill now, rather than waiting for recommendations from an independent panel, because legislation was promised months ago. The B.C. Liberal Party moved to more regular reporting in January. “We want to make sure that everybody’s doing the same thing because we think that part’s the right part to do,” she said.


lkines@timescolonist.com

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