Influence Peddling. One of the BC government’s biggest failures – and somehow it escapes the notice of many in BC.
What is it?
“Influence peddling is the illegal (at least unethical) practice of using one’s influence in government or connections with persons in authority to obtain favours or preferential treatment for another, usually in return for payment.” Source: Wikipedia (among many others)
Most provinces limit the amount a person or organization can donate to a party in a year or election campaign, ranging from $30,000 in Alberta to just $100 in Quebec. Alberta, Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia go even further, banning union and corporate donations entirely – even the misguided and perplexing government of Kathleen Wynne in Ontario has recently introduced legislation to tackle the issue. BC and Saskatchewan, surprisingly, trail the rest of the country visibly – and to the detriment of the democratic process and fairness.
Why is this a problem that most provinces (and indeed most democratic states and nations worldwide) have identified and quickly rectified?
Corruption – at least the spectre of corruption. Unfair and inequitable treatment of issues, policies, and initiatives – based on financial incentives paid to political parties through donations, election campaign contributions and ‘fund raisers’.
The current ‘poster boy’ (and ‘poster girl’) for the obvious benefits of influence peddling are the oily smooth team of Hillary and Bill Clinton who, either through their own explicit individual involvement or through the murky fog surrounding the Clinton Foundation, have turned the art of political pandering into a growing personal fortune – at the expense of all who do not match the funds provided to the ‘Clinton Cash’ machine dollar for dollar. (I would encourage you to read the revealing ‘Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich‘ expose.
You might object – but that’s an American problem, not ours here in Canada. Not so. At least, in the US, ‘Lobbyists’ have to be registered and are closely regulated. Not the case in BC.
Bill and Hillary Clinton have been paid a total of $12.4-million (U.S.) for giving speeches in Canada since leaving the White House in 2000. Source: Globe and Mail November 4, 2016 (an article worth reading). Whoever pays expects something in return – and its not just photo ops.
The interesting prospect to the sordid drama unfolding south of the Canadian border is that we may be on the brink of watching something never before accomplished in the annals of US political history – the very real possibility that both husband Bill and wife Hillary can claw their way to the White House – and both be subsequently impeached by Congress for their various and sundry transgressions.
That prospect sums up the reason that most responsible and accountable governments have closed legislative loopholes that allow politicians, and their political parties, to be ‘bought and paid for’.
Just what are the BC political donation numbers and can those numbers identify an alarming pattern of political pandering and influence peddling? Without a doubt. Uncontrolled and unregulated virtual limitless political donations are influencing decisions in BC far more than the identifiable needs and preferences of individual voters and constituencies.
Let us be clear on the facts.
There are no political contribution limits in British Columbia. However, the Election Act does establish limits on the amount of anonymous contributions a candidate, registered constituency association or political party can accept.
The Election Act prohibits the following types of organizations from making political contributions, including contributions of goods or services:
- unregistered political parties
- unregistered constituency associations
- charitable organizations, which include any organization whose objectives are the relief of poverty, advancement of education or religion, protection of health, government or municipal purposes, and other purposes beneficial to the community. This definition applies whether or not the organization is a registered charity for income tax purposes.
- political parties or electoral district associations registered under the Canada Elections Act
That’s it, folks. Straight from the FAQ website of Elections BC.
The result? Any political party in BC is legally able to accept any amount of money from any source, excepting those specifically excluded above. Including foreign donations and donations from corporations and special interest groups in other jurisdictions in Canada. Do rationale, intelligent individuals sincerely believe that those contributions do not come with strings attached, in many cases?
Level playing field? Hardly.
The matter of unrestricted political contributions that unfairly and unjustly skew political decisions and legislation should be one of the main talking points of the 2017 BC election. We have a premier in Christy Clark who happily (and who wouldn’t be?) continues to ‘double dip’ with an income provided by the taxpayers of BC and another income from the BC Liberal Party that is currently gathering up unregulated and unlimited donations from any number of sources leading up to the 2017 election.
So important is this fundraising activity to the coffers of the BC Liberal Party that it cancelled the fall session of the BC Legislature in 2016 so it could get on with the ‘much more vital‘ task of raising money for the 2017 election campaign.
We, the taxpayers and residents of BC, deserve better.
Since 2005, the B.C. Liberal party has raised more than $107.8 million—$70.2 million of that from businesses and corporations.
The B.C. NDP, $55.9 million, with $38 million coming from individuals and $11.6 million from unions.
Source: Georgia Straight April 8, 2016
We are heading into an election year. How many more millions of dollars are going to be ‘contributed’ by numerous special interest groups before the 2017 election – with the very real expectation that those ‘contributions’ are payment in kind in exchange for some anticipated political result?
How much of that money is going to be spent buying television ads, radio spots and newspaper ads touting the ‘monumental success and accomplishments’ of the encumbent BC Liberal government? Ignoring, in the process, the real issues of unsustainable and unaffordable high real estate prices in the lower mainland, chaos in the Vancouver School Board, the termination of the contract of the provincial Youth Advocacy watchdog, BC’s own version of Clinton’s email destruction scandal in the very offices of the Premier, the fragility of an economy built on a house of cards and speculation – just to name a few?
This alarming pattern of unregulated political influence and ‘special interest group’ dominance of political decisions will not change until BC voters elect legislators who are committed to the principle of ‘one person – one vote’ instead of ‘limitless dollars – will buy the vote’.
Glen Walushka, ba (Economics), AICB