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How Big Money Undermined B.C.'s Climate Leadership — and Its Democracy

It is a betrayal of the public purpose of democratic institutions, and it weakens trust in government.

09/21/2017 11:00 EDT | Updated 09/21/2017 11:00 EDT
Chris Wattie/Reuters
Former B.C. Premier Christy Clark takes part in the First Ministers meeting in Ottawa, Dec. 9, 2016.

British Columbia has been called the "Wild West of political cash." The BC Liberal Party raised a jaw-dropping $13 million in political donations in 2016 alone, a good deal of which came from the oil and gas industry. But what kind of influence does big money buy? A recent report by Shannon Daub & Zoë Yunker, prepared as part of the Corporate Mapping Project of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, suggests it buys more than access: it buys the opportunity to secretly influence policy in ways that make a mockery of public consultations. Exhibit A for the corporate capture of democratic institutions is BC's "climate leadership" charade.

In 2015, then-B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced that her government was going to create a new climate action plan to move the province toward a "low-carbon future." She appointed an impressive roster of academics, community stakeholders, environmental advocates, business interests and First Nations to form a Climate Leadership Team to come up with a plan. As part of the process, the province received hundreds of written submissions and conducted a survey of thousands of people. The Climate Leadership Team issued a report in November in time for the premier to travel to Paris for the December 2015 UN climate talks where she touted B.C.'s climate leadership.

A more compelling reason to get big money out of politics would be hard to find.

The government then undertook further consultations. There were even more submissions, letters, and meetings with stakeholders. And then, after months of silence, the government issued a report that fell far short of the Climate Leadership Team's recommendations. Tzeporah Berman, who was on the team, said the government "failed," and that she found working with the B.C. government a "very disappointing experience." The Sierra Club's Tim Pearson called the plan a "fraud."

Why did the government engage in a consultation process and then ignore the results? Thanks to the CCPA report, we now know that the government was quietly working with the oil and gas industry even as they were engaged in public consultations. They were literally holding meetings in the boardrooms of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) in Calgary, working with the very companies —Chevron, Encana, Suncor, Conoco-Phillips, Tek Resources — that have poured cash donations into the coffers of the BC Liberal Party.

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In meetings with senior B.C. policymakers, the oil and gas industry was invited to "refine the language" of recommendations from the Climate Leadership Team, to determine the pace of implementation, and to help decide what measures would be voluntary or compulsory.

The CCPA calls such collusion "institutional corruption," and that is what it is. It is a betrayal of the public purpose of democratic institutions, and it weakens trust in government. A more compelling reason to get big money out of politics would be hard to find. The whole matter calls for a public investigation and reinforces the need to put an end to corporate contributions to political parties in B.C..

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