I’m a little unsure about the “ban big money from election campaigns” legislation introduced by the governing New Democrats. It comes with a nervous back-ground whisper from Andrew Weaver’s Greens. At first shout it seems clear enough, but it echoes down the corridors of power without clarity.
It seems the government, with the nervous “we didn’t ask for it” support of the Greens, is not really intending to ban big money from election campaigns. Rather, it has designated one super donor to replace the many. That donor will be “the people,” although Premier John Horgan and his Green acolytes didn’t actually say “the people” at the great unveiling of the plan to eliminate big money campaign donations. They prefer the word “government” in the hope that “the people” fail to appreciate that their tax dollars are funding parties they may not support.
When the election donation guidelines become law, businesses, trade unions and individuals will lose their name-dropping rights at $50 a plate dinners with their local MLA or $525 a plate nibbles with Premier Horgan.
Recently departed Liberal Premier Christy Clark’s camp followers were happy to provide similar “audience opportunities” starting at $1,000 a plate. When she vacated the premier’s office she left the provincial treasury with unprecedented budget surpluses and the Liberal Party, her party, with enough in the bank to finance a future election campaign.
But, no more dinners with political stars; no more hefty campaign cheques from big business; no more “undue influence” from corporations or trade unions, Canadian or foreign. The government, said Premier Horgan, will pick up the slack. What he meant was “the people,” rich and poor, will pick up the slack to make sure those in power, and those seeking a place in the political sun, are adequately financed to hit the hustings with promises they may never keep.
The estimated cost over the first four years is $11 million, plus another $20 million in what is being called “a second subsidy” of an annual grant based on the number of votes received by a political party in the most recent election. The subsidy is scheduled to start in 2018 at $2.50 a vote decreasing to $1.57 per vote in 2022 when the subsidy “will be reviewed.” Premier Horgan described the costs as “modest in the grand scheme of things.”
Where does Mr. Weaver stand on “no more big money in elections unless it comes from taxpayers” legislation? To be kind, he appears to be balancing uncomfortably on a razor’s edge. He is in favour of election financing reform. However, he did not expect it to be introduced until after a review by a panel chaired by chief electoral office Keith Archer as promised by the NDP leader during the last election campaign.
Weaver was undoubtedly pleased when Premier Horgan took sole responsibility for putting the cart before the horse by breaking his promise of full review before introducing legislation. Media reported Premier Horgan as saying he simply had a change of mind on timing, “in no way suggesting Mr. Weaver and his colleagues had any undue influence.”
Interesting language, as was a Vaughn Palmer (Vancouver Sun) quote from Weaver. When asked earlier in the day for his thoughts on taxpayers picking up electioneering costs, Weaver said: “We did not push for the subsidy … we did not bring that to the table.” Palmer suggested listeners could only assume the sudden injection of taxpayer dollars was entirely the work of Horgan and the NDP.”
Could not pushing for the subsidy and not bringing it to the table mean Weaver’s Greens are against taxpayer funding and will vote against the bill unless it is amended to remove the subsidy sections? I wouldn’t bet on it. The Green’s share of subsidy money, based on last May’s vote totals, would be $831,000. For a financially poor, albeit politically ambitious party, that’s a tough gift horse to walk away from.
I don’t think he will. Like the experienced politician he’s rapidly becoming, he’ll take the money, forgetting that the people who provide it have long memories. They will remember that when it came to priorities, the NDP – Alliance placed its own financial needs ahead of their pledge of a $10-a-day child care plan.