After Thought: Reigning in The Corporate Spending in B.C. Politics
Columns / October 6, 2017
B.C. NDP will limit the amount of influence that corporations can buy from the government, but at what cost?
The word “capital” refers to an accumulated wealth of financial or other assets. While money and politics are inseparable, capital can take different forms, and for politicians, the “other assets” category can sometimes be more important.
One of these other assets—something that pundits call “political capital”—is a nebulous sort of currency that politicians and policymakers need to use in order to get things done. Some people call it suction, or clout, or integrity. There are numerous ways to cultivate it over time, like demonstrating loyalty to a political party, exchanging favours, or taking advantage of social or family ties. In politics, this kind of currency is extremely valuable and is often the deciding factor in separating the more significant power players from their lowly backbencher colleagues.
B.C.’s previous party donation policy allowed corporations and other groups to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to the provincial government, exchanging money for political capital which they would use to advance their agendas. This is referred to as “pay-to-play” politics, meaning that the government is implicitly obligated to accommodate the interests of big businesses and donors. And when push comes to shove, politicians are likely to prioritize these interests over the concerns of the common proletariat.
The Liberals were so enthusiastic about gobbling up money from non-voters that they even let people in other countries donate to them, something so biased and counterintuitive that it’s actually straight up illegal in most other provinces.
If international businesses are not allowed to vote in B.C. or Canada, and are not affected by the legal decisions that our governments make, why on earth should they be allowed to participate in our politics? There is absolutely no way these kinds of donations were made with altruistic intentions. People were quick to see through the façade of impartiality and disinterest that the Liberals hid behind and call it out for what it was: bribery.
Unfair practices like this were common for the party; tens of thousands of dollars in “bonuses” paid to Christy Clark on top of her salary. Exclusive private fundraisers attended only by the wealthy elite. Taxpayer-funded kickbacks to private contractors so they could “accelerate” the construction of massive infrastructure projects. A feckless and last-minute election promise to institute an “unbiased” internal ethics panel to regulate donations. The Liberal Party’s greed and hubris drove each and every one of these coffin nails deeper, and their chances of holding on to a majority in parliament dissolved, ending a 16-year long regime.
But it’s not over ‘til it’s over. Despite putting these troubling issues to rest by banning all corporate, union, and foreign donations, and putting a $1,200 cap on individual donations, the NDP are now facing stark criticism for their plan to use taxpayer money to soften the blow of transitioning from the old ways. The parties will need money to compensate for having their arterial sources of funding severed, and it looks like we’re footing the bill.
Taxes will be used to fund parties on a “per vote” basis, initially starting at $2.50 per vote, shrinking to $1.75 in 2022. For now, this gives the NDP a small financial advantage, but that is subject to change in the future. It’s a pragmatic solution, and the fact that it almost looks like proportional representation is appealing, but it has done little to distract critics from the elephant in the room—that John Horgan explicitly and repeatedly stated that he would never use taxpayer money to subsidize party funding.
This is a damnable flip-flop for the NDP fresh out of the gate, especially considering the fragility of their position in parliament, and it will limit their political capital in the future. Somehow, the NDP decided that their political integrity was worth $2.50 a vote, but the thing about integrity is that once it’s been sold, it’s almost impossible to buy back.
This mistake could haunt the NDP for the remainder of their term, and moving forward, they should take heed of the lesson that the Liberals had to learn the hard way: it’s not always about the money.