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Government inaction on campaign finance is an embarrassment

The provincial government failed to pass any campaign finance legislation this spring, despite promising to pass a bill that would have required political parties to disclose new donations every two weeks. The bill would have amounted to a cynical half-measure, but even then the government refused to pass it. They let the bill languish and die, instead of using their majority to make it law.

You may have also heard that the government is planning to strike a panel to review campaign finance laws. That, too, has not happened; it may never happen; and if it does happen, the government can reject any recommendations they don’t like.

The blatant disregard for the public’s concern about cash-for-access fundraisers, corporate, union, and foreign donations, and big-money donors is, frankly, shameful.

A recent poll found that roughly 70 per cent of British Columbians want a ban on corporate and union political contributions and a hard cap on individual donations. Other polls have shown that about 80 per cent want big money out of our political system.

The Minister of Justice told the Legislature recently that when it comes to campaign finance reform, all people want is “openness and transparency.”

The minister and the government have completely lost touch with reality, because that is clearly not what British Columbians have been saying. The government’s inaction is embarrassing, and it shows a cynical contempt for the will of the people of this province.

When the premier decided that her $50,000 stipend from the BC Liberal Party had become a “distraction,” she stopped taking that money. I know it must have hurt. I suspect she was told that the issue wasn’t polling in her favour.

But when at least 70 per cent of the public wants reform for B.C.’s campaign finance laws – laws that have been maintained solely to keep this government in power – what is it if not a distraction? The Globe and Mail reported that even the lobbyists that have padded the government’s pockets are fed up with the system.

Is the government’s grip on this province so tenuous that they’re telling people they need more than $12 million a year in donations to keep the B.C. Liberal Party in power? That’s more money than the Ontario Liberal Party rakes in, for heaven’s sake.

And it’s not only the party. This government uses taxpayer dollars for partisan purposes, too. Huge sums of money from the citizens of this province fund advertisements about how amazing the BC Liberal Party’s policies are – on television, radio, and across social media. $1.9 million of taxpayer money is being used to advertise the government’s election-year budget, including changes to MSP that won’t occur until 2018 – if the government is re-elected. That’s hardly a prudent or appropriate use of funds.

This government likes to say they are “world-class” in just about every area you can imagine, but if they think for a second that we’re world class when it comes to campaign finance, allow me to shatter their illusions. Here are a few jurisdictions that have stronger campaign finance rules than B.C. in a few key areas:

·        Uzbekistan has donation limits. Foreign donations aren’t allowed, and corporations can’t donate to candidates.

·        Moldova has banned foreign contributions, and placed limits on donations.

·        Kazakhstan doesn’t allow foreign contributions. They have donation limits, too. They’re pretty high, but at least they have them.

·        Syria has donation limits, and donations from foreign interests are prohibited.

·        In Russia, corporations can’t donate to political parties, and foreign interests can’t donate to parties or candidates. They have donation limits as well.

Closer to home, corporate and union donations were banned in Quebec in 1977 – forty years ago! Manitoba banned them in 2000, followed by the federal government, Nova Scotia, Alberta, and Ontario.

The federal government, Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Alberta, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Ontario all insist that donations originate from within their borders. Saskatchewan restricts donations to Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

And there are annual donation limits almost everywhere in this country. They have them federally, and in Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Ontario, the Northwest Territories, New Brunswick, and Nunavut.

The only other Canadian jurisdictions with the same lax “rules” as B.C. are Newfoundland and Labrador, P.E.I., and Yukon Territory. We are hardly national or world-leaders when it comes to campaign finance. All of these other places acknowledged it was a problem that wealthy donors, corporations, or foreign interests could donate to their political process. Why won’t B.C.?

Any person, corporation, or union in the world can donate to our political parties. There are no limits. Want to give a billion dollars to the B.C. Liberal Party? Back up the truck and don’t be surprised if the premier waves you in.

It beggars belief that we saw so many government lobbyists admit, in the Globe and Mail’s, that they regularly break the Elections Act. It’s apparently so routine it didn’t even dawn on them they were admitting to breaking the law. The practice is now being investigated by the RCMP.

It is 2017, in a Canadian province, and we are a laughingstock. It’s the Wild West, anything goes, pay-to-play.

The government wants voters to think that their self-imposed donations policy would improve our campaign finance laws. But if you look at what the Liberal Party is posting for its 2016 and 2017 donations, it’s not exactly full transparency.

You can see corporations that donated to the party. But if you want meaningful information on the numbered and holdings companies that donated – and there are many – you will need to take a number of extra steps.

That takes time and energy, but for the sake of real transparency, I’m happy to help out.

Property developers – unsurprisingly – are well represented in this class of corporate donor.

The $60,000 donated by 0744625 B.C. Limited and Number 201 Seabright Holdings last year to the BC Liberals? That’s from Neil Chrystal and Robert Bruno of Polygon Homes. Real estate developers are key players on the government’s donor list, and the Vancouver Sun has done some good reporting on this issue.

The $30,200 donated by Shato Holdings Ltd., a real estate development company from Delta, is from Kim Bortnak; Sultan Thiara; Peter Toigo; Ronald Toigo; Frank Price; Don German; Sherman Hood; Elizabeth Toigo; and Larry Bell.

338446 B.C. Ltd. – that’s Thomas Lindsay, Trevor Bruno, and Michael Heskin, who are all affiliated with Belkorp Industries, an investment company with a principal interest in real estate. They kicked in $10,000.

Real estate developer Jeffrey Arnold’s company, 639901 BC Ltd., was good for $10,000. So was Concord Pacific Holdings, another real estate development company, run by Matt Meehan and Dennis Au-Yeung.

Kebet Holdings’ contributions have been reported on before. Their president is real estate scion Ryan Beedie, and they gave $100,000. Not to be outdone, RPMG Holdings – the parent company of real estate developers Onni Group – is run by Rossano, Giulio, Morris, and Paolo De Cotiis. They also gave $100,000. Peter and Bruno Wall, well-known real estate magnates, gave $200,000 through their company 2300 Kingsway Residences.

The list of property developers goes on and on. Other stand-out donors in the Liberals’ self-disclosed donations have equally opaque connections to different industries.

The President and CEO of Glacier media is Jonathon Kennedy, and the CFO is Orest Smysnuik. They’re also the directors of 6349099 Canada Ltd., which gave $33,000.

Persis Holdings is run by Hassan Khosrowshahi. He founded Future Shop, and his company gave $20,000. He’s also an officer of Wesbild Holdings, which gave $40,700. Over the years, Khosrowshahi and the other directors and officers involved in those companies have given more than $750,000 to the BC Liberals.

0926141 B.C. Ltd. is run by Allan Skidmore of TCG International. The numbered company gave $30,000.

Paper Excellence Canada Holdings Corporation gave $45,450. Its directors are Choong Wei Tan and Hardi Wardhana.

So there’s some added transparency. Again, I’m happy to help out.

Real transparency would be great, but it wouldn’t get corporate and union money out of our democracy. Two-week disclosure timelines don’t end foreign donations. And they don’t put limits on political donations. The perception that companies can try to buy influence with large cheques will remain. Nor would transparency end cash for access fundraisers, where donors cozy up for private chats with the premier and cabinet.

I had legislation before the House that would have addressed all of these issues. My bills would have banned cash-for-access fundraisers, banned corporate, union and out-of-province donations, and set a $1,500 cap on donations. The Official Opposition had legislation before the House that would have addressed some of the same problems.

The government has promised a campaign finance review, at some point, so they can go into an election and say they’re taking action. They have made no commitment to actually changing any laws and reforming a broken system. For 15 years, they have been a complete embarrassment when it comes to campaign finance reform. Don’t let them forget it.

Videos: Vicki on her time as MLA and democracy in B.C.

Vicki recently spoke with Imagine X BC, a non-partisan group of citizens working to reform politics in B.C., about her time as an Independent MLA and the state of democracy in B.C on Shaw TV's Constituency Report. If you missed the original broadcast, you can watch the full interview here.

You can also watch her appearance on Vaughn Palmer's Voice of BC with MLA Gordie Hogg below. 

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What we know about foreign ownership of B.C.'s farmland

Following up on the March 22 Optimist article about foreign ownership of farmland, I thought it would be interesting to look at some numbers.

My office has obtained sales information on every parcel of ALR land sold in B.C. between January 2010 and fall 2015. The data shows that ALR land in B.C. is being sold to foreign interests, including right here in Delta.

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My response to Budget 2017

Today, I gave my response to the government’s budget and included some parting words and thanks for those who have helped me and my office along the way. It has truly been an honour serving you as your representative in Victoria for the past eight years.

You can find the full speech and transcript below.