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The Problem With Big Money In B.C. Politics, Explained

04/03/2017 12:39 EDT | Updated 04/03/2017 12:42 EDT

We've heard a lot about big money in politics after the Globe and Mail and the New York Times recently branded B.C. the "Wild West of political donations," but what does it actually mean? In this blog I will explore why it is such a big deal, how it is already affecting us and what we can do about it.

christy clark

B.C. Premier Christy Clark. (Photo: Andy Clark/Reuters)

What does big money in politics mean?

This is when a governing political party (in this case the B.C. Liberals) accept large donations from corporations, special interest groups, lobbyists or foreign investors/groups, which may lead to special deals, tax breaks or other financial gains.

Why is it a problem?

Eighty-six per cent of people in B.C. support banning corporate and union donations, with 76 per cent agreeing that the B.C. Liberals are only interested in helping their political donors and big businesses. The majority of us know that people don't just give away hundreds of thousands of dollars without expecting anything in return. We have also watched as more and more crooked connections and shady backroom deals come to light. At this point, it's almost as if they don't even care that we know it's happening.

But you see they have been doing this long enough that they know we are expecting it, some people have come to just accept it as an inevitable part of politics. This has created a cynicism in voters that has resulted in lower voter turnouts. Twenty years ago in the 1996 elections, the voter turnout was around 60 per cent; last election it was closer to 50 per cent.

The best interests and concerns of citizens are often left on the sideline.

When half the people in this province don't even care enough to show up and mark a piece of paper, it shows how disengaged people have become. When people disengage and corporations and lobbyists step in, the best interests and concerns of citizens are often left on the sideline.

How does this affect you and me?

Ask people from around the province what are some of their major concerns right now and a large portion would including housing. This is a huge issue for buyers and renters both in availability and affordability and in places like the mainland the situation is reaching a full-blown crisis.

If you are one of those people worried about the growing housing issues, you might be interested to know that eight of the top 10 donors to the B.C. Liberals last year are in the property development and construction industry.

The Liberals have sat back for years and watched as the market has become tighter and tighter as more foreign investors buy up property. Those in the development and real-estate industries have made a killing while house prices skyrocket well out of reach for your average citizen.

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(Photo: Ben Nelms/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The B.C. Liberals have also been caught in some shady deals, such as the time when a Liberal donor was given land in Coquitlam for $43 million less than its appraised value. Consider also two deals between B.C. housing and people who have donated to (and fundraised) for the B.C. Liberal party, which involve big loans, very low interest rates and, of course, financial benefits for some involved.

Since 2005, Teck -- a coal and metal mining company -- has donated more than any other corporation, having given just over $2.8 million to the B.C. Liberals. According to the Vancouver Sun, Teck "is responsible for nearly 60 per cent of the $1.2 billion in under-funding for the cleanup of mines when they close in B.C.," which falls on taxpayers if the company cannot pay. Our government refuses to put safeguards in place like most places have to ensure the money needed for cleanup is already put down by the corporation before they begin operating.

Remember the Mount Polley disaster that happened almost three years ago? Well, did you know that a major B.C. Liberal fundraiser indirectly and directly controls 36 per cent of the shares for Imperil Metals -- the company who was responsible for Mount Polley? Or that we as taxpayers are subsidizing $23.6 million of the clean-up costs?

mount polley

The results of a tailing pond breach at Imperial Metals Corp's gold and copper mine at Mount Polley, Aug. 4, 2014.(Photo: Cariboo Regional District/Handout via Reuters)

The B.C. Liberals are also under pressure to return the $771,168 in donations it took from Alberta-based corporations connected with Kinder Morgan because many feel that could have greatly influenced their support of the project.

One more important point I need to make is the very blurred lines between the B.C. Liberal government and our media. Because, as you guessed it, big media like Shaw communications, Black Press, Postmedia and others all donate tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars to the B.C. Liberals. In return, the Liberals have given them millions of our tax dollars to run attack ads against opposition and on ads promoting themselves. You should also consider how many former members of the media are now working or running for the Liberals.

As you can see from just a few of many examples, big money in politics can affect our housing and environment, create the appearance of biased media and influence major project decisions, not to mention it funnel our tax dollars to developers, realtors, corporations, wealthy Liberal supporters, media and salary top-ups for Christy Clark.

It's time to get big money out of politics and put citizens back in.

What can we do about it?

The obvious answer is to ban big money in politics. Our federal government and all but one other province have all banned corporate and union donations and limited individual donations. For example, the maximum that can be donated to the federal government is $1,500.

The NDP have tabled bills six times to do just that, but of course the Liberals -- not wanting to lose their cash cow -- have blocked it every time. The B.C. NDP have now turned that into a campaign promise to not only ban corporate/union donations and to cap individual donations, but to also to ban tax-funded partisan ads.

It's time to get big money out of politics and put citizens back in.

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