Premier Clark and big money in politics: ‘nothing to see here’ Liberals say

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John Horgan Leader of the B.C. New Democrats
John Horgan Leader, BC New Democrats
John Horgan
Leader, BC New Democrats

By John Horgan Leader BC New Democrat Official Opposition

‘Nothing to see here.’ That’s what the B.C. Liberals are saying about the premier’s annual $50,000 salary top-up from her party – that’s in addition to the nearly $200,000 she gets from taxpayers.

The premier doesn’t think that’s a problem. In fact, when she was asked about the issue in the legislature, she tried to laugh it off.

She also doesn’t think it’s a problem that she acts as a key fundraising draw for her party, which means that a share of the money she helps collect through exclusive, $20,000-a-plate fundraising dinners is heading straight into her bank account through her annual Liberal party top-up.

And she doesn’t think it’s a problem that British Columbians don’t even get to know who is paying that much money for one-on-one time with the most influential elected representative in the province. She said she would disclose that info in “real-time” but then her top communications staff person had to backtrack on behalf of the premier.

But even if the premier doesn’t see a problem with her salary top-ups and the apparent conflict of interest they’re creating, there are a lot of people in this province who do. And they’re absolutely right.

The Globe and Mail has called the top-up “unethical.” The National Post says “everything around these dubious fundraising efforts and mysterious salary ‘top-ups’ stinks.” And an editorial in the Times Colonist put it like this: “B.C.’s Wild West approach to political donations has created a climate of corruption.”

This story has revealed just how out of touch Christy Clark really is.

Across the province, British Columbians are struggling with the lowest minimum wage in the country, flat wage growth and B.C. Liberal hikes to taxes and fees. Yet still the premier seems mystified that anyone would care that she is collecting a second salary partly financed by her fundraising efforts.

Instead of responding to the growing outrage around the issue, the premier seems to be hoping it will just blow over. But the outcry is just getting louder. That’s because it’s obvious to everyone except the B.C. Liberals: big money is bad for our democracy.

While other provinces, most recently Ontario, and the federal government have moved to take big money out of politics, the Christy Clark government has not only said no to banning union and corporate donations, and no to municipal election spending limits – it has moved to eliminate pre-election spending limits in the 60 days prior to an election.

A month ago, I gave Christy Clark the chance to do the right thing and fix this embarrassing record of putting self-interest ahead of democratic fairness. I introduced a bill that would ban corporate and union donations, and put a cap on personal donations. The premier voted against it.

It’s hard to imagine the premier was looking out for anyone other than herself when she cast her vote. A recent Insights West poll found that 86 per cent of British Columbians would support a ban on corporate and union donations before the next election.

The truth is, Christy Clark doesn’t want politics to be an even playing field, and it’s not hard to figure out why. While the New Democrats receive 82 per cent of donations from individual people, the B.C. Liberals receive 66 per cent of their donations from corporations and businesses.

Today, it seems the premier and her colleagues are resorting to outright denial, even in the face of serious province-wide concern. While debating this issue in the house, Liberal MLA Laurie Throness made the incredible claim that “there is no big money in B.C. elections.”

What was he really saying? ‘Nothing to see here.’