The provincial NDP unveiled legislation banning union and corporate donations last week, fulfilling a central component of their election platform promised during the campaign.
However, the party is being criticized for adding in taxpayer subsidies to the tune of roughly $27 million over five years as part of an effort to help political parties manage the financial impacts of political party finance reform.
That raises a red flag for Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka.
“What they did is they incorporated a mechanism for citizens and the taxpayers of British Columbia to actually foot the bill for political parties,” Shypitka said. “So what that means is you’re actually forced to pay for political parties and two of the three are probably ones you don’t support, so it really doesn’t really wash with me and I think the NDP have made a really serious error.”
The proposed legislation will end corporate and union donations, limit individual contributions to $1,200 a year, ban out-of-province donations, cap contributions to third-party election advertisers, reduce campaign spending by 25 per cent, among other initiatives.
Before the previous Liberal government lost a confidence vote, the first bill they tabled was legislation to ban corporate and union donations.
“We knew that this was something British Columbians were looking forward to and a revamping of our political contribution strategy and we addressed that,” Shypitka said, “we said we’ll put a $3,000 personal limit on it, we won’t include unions or corporations and we thought that was pretty fair.”
The issue of campaign fundraising even got some international media attention earlier this year with the New York Times publishing an article calling the province the ‘wild west’ of Canadian political cash.
Shypitka said both the Liberals and NDP are guilty of taking advantage of lax campaign fundraising rules of the past. He accused the NDP of taking the largest donation in BC political history to the tune of $672,576 from the United Steelworkers. Documents from Elections BC show that the party received financial support from the USW in 33 separate payments over the 2016 calendar year.
One of those payments was a lump sum of $250,000, as the NDP raised $6.2 million last year.
“A lot of people look at the BC Liberals as being the ones behind this because we haven’t brought bills forward, but lets be honest, the unions have been huge donators to the NDP party.
In fact, they were the ones that donated the largest contribution in BC history, the unions, so both sides have played the game for a long time, it’s about time we revamped it,” Shypitka said.
On the flip side, election documents show the BC Liberals raised $7.9 million in 2016, the largest corporate contribution coming from West Fraser Mills Ltd at $111,000 and the largest individual contribution from Robert Lee at $40,000.
Going forward, Shypitka says it will be interesting to see how the Green Party votes, as leader Andrew Weaver has denied any role in the taxpayer-subsidized campaign finance reform.
“If this thing passes — if the taxpayers are on the bill — then it will be a concerted effort between the NDP and the Greens,” he said, “and the Greens won’t be able to stand back from it and say it wasn’t their idea.
“If they vote for it, that means they’re obviously in support of taxpayers paying.”