Les Leyne: NDP golf fundraiser has Greens fuming

Les Leyne mugshot genericYou hate to see political bros argue over a silly thing like sports. But it looks as if golf, of all things, is the first irritant to publicly test the NDP and Greens’ new working relationship.

Not just golf, but the idea of using golf to entice organizations such as corporations and unions to donate money to the NDP in order to spend a few recreational hours cosying up to the premier of B.C. and members of his cabinet.

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Cash for access is the phrase that comes to mind. Mostly because the NDP has been ranting about it for years while watching the Liberals rake in money using the formula.

The NDP promised a quick end to the practice during the campaign, and the confidence agreement signed with the Greens says that electoral-finance reform is one of the first things on the agenda when the legislature sits next month. They’re going to ban union and corporate donations and “eliminate any other means by which individuals or entities may wield undue influence over government.”

But in the meantime, it’s clear the NDP is going to raise as much money as it can under the old rules, before it changes them. So it’s promoting the leader’s golf tournament at Bear Mountain this month, which prompted the first sharp words from Green Leader Andrew Weaver about the NDP since he signed the accord.

As colleague Lindsay Kines reported Friday, Weaver said it’s “quite outrageous” and inappropriate to advertise an opportunity to buy some access to a premier. He rapped the party during the election campaign for staging expensive receptions featuring the leader. The NDP’s response has always been that it is going to change the rules pronto, but in the meantime, it’ll observe the current rules to keep a level playing field.

But that puts the NDP in an incongruous position. Organizations are paying $2,000 a foursome to get access to a leader who stands for cancelling access of the type they just bought. And Horgan is the big advertised draw for a fundraising event that is identical to the B.C. Liberal ones that his party has spent years trying to outlaw.

Weaver can fume about it all from a safe distance. The Greens voluntarily ended the practice of accepting donations from anyone other than individuals last fall.

The tournament has been a fixture for years, but the change of government puts it in a new light. The invitation is formatted for “organizations” to buy spots for golfers. That’s the traditional way they’re run, and also the main objection, as it allows corporations, unions and particularly lobbyists to buy time with the premier for whomever they choose.

B.C. Liberals turned golf tournaments into major revenue producers during their time in office. Disclosure forms show they cleared more than $800,000 from golf tournaments in 2016, where organizations bought tickets and provided goods and services worth thousands. But Liberals were quick to scorn Horgan for carrying on.

“He ran a campaign against exactly this,” said MLA Mike Bernier (Peace River South) on Friday. “And Weaver has no place to complain. He had the opportunity to vote for a [Liberal] bill that lined up perfectly with what he wanted. But he did what he did.”

One of the last Liberal moves to stay in power was to reverse the party’s previous stance and introduce a campaign-finance bill that would have outlawed such donations. The NDP and Greens voted against its introduction.

The NDP held cash-for-access events throughout its term in Opposition. Continuing now that they’re in power is a case of their need for money outweighing their sense of propriety.

Just So You Know: As a measure of how upside-down the scene is, the Liberals cancelled one of their biggest tournaments this year. Interim leader Rich Coleman has hosted a Fraser Valley tournament for years. Last year’s disclosure forms state that it grossed $438,000, and the party netted $304,000.

After the election and during the negotiations about a minority government, Coleman said he cancelled it out of concern about the sensitivities. So the Liberals have suddenly abandoned golfing with the leader as a fundraiser, while the NDP is adopting it.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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