Premier rejects donor reforms sought by NDP on ‘big money’

Premier Christy Clark rejected calls by the NDP Wednesday to get “big money” out of politics by banning corporate and union donations to political parties.

Clark also said she has no plans to follow the lead of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and cancel private political fundraisers where people pay thousands of dollars for access to the premier.

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Clark, who has been under fire for attending similar “pay-for-access” functions in B.C., said the province is well-served by existing rules that limit spending during election campaigns and require parties to disclose the names of donors and how much they contribute.

“I think the disclosure is the most important part of it,” she said.

Clark said the transparency ensures that people do not receive special treatment simply because they contribute to a particular party.

“My job, and the job of every elected member — whichever party they’re from — is to make sure that we are representing the people of the province no matter who they are, no matter who they vote for, no matter who they donate to, whether or not they even vote,” she said.

But NDP Leader John Horgan, who introduced legislation Wednesday that would ban corporate and union donations, said the public want to see campaign finance reform.

“It is an issue of interest to the people of B.C.,” he said. “They’re sick and tired of it. And when they look at me and they look at the premier and they look at politicians generally, they say: ‘You’re all in the pocket of somebody.’

“We need to change that. If we’re going to reinvigorate political discourse in British Columbia and get people back in the equation, they have to be the ones calling the tune. Not corporations, not unions, not vested interests.”

The government blocked Horgan’s bill from being referred to the standing committee on finance for immediate review — a move the NDP leader portrayed as a vote against reform.

Horgan said he will continue to attend private fundraisers for the NDP until Clark agrees to fix the system.

“Until such time as we change the rules, I’m not going to unilaterally disarm,” he said. “I think it would be irresponsible of me to do that.”

Horgan said it takes money to compete against the “the largest corporate political party B.C. has ever seen.”

“We had a chance to change the rules today and the B.C. Liberals said no. The party of ‘no’ when it comes to getting millionaires out of the political process.”

Clark told reporters she has no idea how much money people pay to attend private fundraising dinners with her.

“I couldn’t confirm for you which events cost how much, because I don’t walk into an event and say: ‘How much did people pay to get here?’ ” she said.

“Because when I meet with people, I’m interested in meeting with people, and most of the events I attend, nobody has to pay a penny to get into, and I’m just as interested in talking to those people and meeting with those people.”

Wynne announced this week that her government will introduce legislation this spring to ban union and corporate donations and pledged to immediately cancel her private fundraisers.

“I think we have to lead by example, and that’s why I’ve made the decision to immediately cancel the upcoming private fundraisers that I attend,” Wynne told the Ontario legislature. “I’ve also asked the same of my ministers.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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