Taxpayers will subsidize B.C. political parties to the tune of more than $27 million over four years under the NDP government’s plan to get big money out of politics.
Attorney General David Eby unveiled new campaign finance rules Monday that will ban union and corporate donations, limit individual contributions to $1,200 a year and provide parties with a temporary “allowance” to help them transition to the new system.
The bill sets the allowance in 2018 at $2.50 per vote received, which works out to about $2 million each for the Liberals and NDP and $830,000 for the B.C. Green Party. The allowance drops by 25 cents a year to $1.75 per vote by 2021 and will cost about $16.4 million over four years.
The allowance ends in 2022 and a special legislative committee will decide whether it continues past that point.
In addition, parties, for the first time, will get 50 per cent of their election expenses reimbursed every four years, which the government says will cost taxpayers about $11 million per election.
Premier John Horgan said the bill acts on a key NDP promise to get big money out of politics.
“The Wild West financing of the past will come to an end,” Horgan said. “It’s time that people got into the centre of our politics, not people with deep pockets.”
Horgan declined to take reporters’ questions and left Eby to explain the taxpayer subsidy, which wasn’t in the NDP campaign platform. In Opposition, Horgan introduced a bill to ban big money that required the chief electoral officer to lead a review of the provincies’ political financing system.
Eby defended the subsidy, arguing that taxpayers pay for the current system, too, since corporations save millions in income tax by getting deductions when they donate to political parties.
“This bill will be reducing political donations in British Columbia by what we believe to be approximately $65 million over the next four years.
“We want absolutely no excuse for parties not complying with the additional requirements that this bill puts in place.”
Eby said the government specifically rejected the Quebec and Ontario model of giving parties an ongoing per-vote allowance.
“This allowance is temporary and is intended to be used by parties to transition away from corporate and union donations.”
Liberal critic and Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson said the Opposition will vote against the taxpayer-funded per-vote subsidy.
“This is a big disappointment,” he said. “We think it’s inappropriate for taxpayers to fund political parties. Political parties should raise their own money and not turn to the taxpayer to pay for it.”
He did not commit the B.C. Liberal Party to declining the subsidy if it’s approved, saying the party will have to see what the legislation looks like once it becomes “the law of the land.”
Wilkinson said the NDP broke its campaign promises by introducing the subsidy, as well as introducing the bill without creating an independent commission to review campaign financing.
“It’s pretty clear the NDP has cut a deal with the Greens to get maximum favour for both of them. The Green Party will get close to $1 million in subsidies out of this next year and that’s money they didn’t have before, which they will use to advance their purposes.”
B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, whose party stopped accepting union and corporate donations a year ago, said the Greens and NDP have been consulting on the “historic” legislation for months. “We now have a comprehensive plan in place that’s going to a create level playing field and that truly puts people at the centre of our democracy,” he said.
Eby said the bill will eliminate undue influence on government and political parties by:
• Putting a yearly cap of $1,200 on contributions by individuals to political parties or candidates. Only Quebec’s limit of $100 a year plus $100 during an election campaign is lower.
• Restricting contributions to individuals who are residents of B.C., Canadian citizens or permanent residents.
• Prohibiting fundraising functions in private residences if they are attended by a major party leader or minister, and if the entrance fee is more than $100.
• Barring third-party advertisers from accepting money from unions or corporations, and allowing them to accept a maximum of $1,200 a year from an individual
• Reducing election expense limits for parties and candidates by 25 per cent.
Eby said the bill will have “retroactive effect” by preventing parties from using money from previous corporate or union donations for future election expenses.
Parties can use that money for other things, such as paying down debt, organizing between elections, or buying a building.