NDP seeks one of lowest political-donation limits per person

A bill to ban big money in B.C. politics includes one of the lowest limits on individual donations in Canada.

Attorney General David Eby introduced the bill to ban union, corporate and out-of-province political donations Monday. It limits individual donations to $1,200 annually — the second-lowest limit in Canada behind Quebec, where the limit is $100.

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New Brunswick banned corporate and union donations June 1, while reducing individual contributions to $3,000 from $6,000.

In the past two years, Alberta limited contributions to $4,000 from $15,000, while Ontario capped total contributions at $3,600, with a maximum of $1,200 toward any candidate, constituency office or party in 2016.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of non-profit Democracy Watch, said the rules on political donations vary widely across the country.

On the far end of the spectrum from Quebec are three provinces that have no limits on individual donations: Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan.

Those jurisdictions also allow for donations from businesses and people who are outside of the jurisdiction.

“Saskatchewan is slightly different from the others in that they require a business or a union to have a presence in the province to make a donation, but that presence can be very minimal. A big multinational might have an office with one person who works in Saskatchewan and then is allowed to donate,” Conacher said.

The next tier of provinces has banned union and corporate donations, while limiting individual donations.

“[Quebec has] the world’s leading model, because it has a donation limit that an average voter can afford,” Conacher said.

“If you have a high donation limit, even if you’ve banned corporate and union donations, you haven’t stopped big money in politics. You have just hidden it.”

He warned that larger donation limits make it easier for businesses and union executives to trick the system by having their spouses, children and sometimes their employees make contributions in their own names.

“The business or union is still giving $10,000, but it is broken between 10 or 20 individuals,” Conacher said.

SNC-Lavalin made about $117,000 in illegal political donations between 2004 and 2011, by funnelling money through employees, Elections Canada found. And an audit of campaign financing in Quebec found $12.8 million was likely funnelled through individuals from 2006 to 2011 — prompting the stricter limit.

Conacher said beyond setting a limit that is affordable to most voters, one way to increase transparency is to require donors to disclose their employers, board members and any other relevant affiliations. Regular audits are also recommended.

Not all provinces are moving toward limiting donations. In June, Manitoba raised the individual donation limit to $5,000 from $3,000.

At the federal level, political donations are capped at $3,100, including $1,550 for each party and $1,550 in combined donations to associations, candidates and nomination contestants.

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Nova Scotia $5,000
Manitoba $5,000
Alberta $4,000
Ontario $3,600
New Brunswick $3,000
Quebec $100

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