04/14/2013 03:38 EDT | Updated 06/14/2013 05:12 EDT

BC Election 2013: NDP, Conservatives Promise Ban On Union, Corporate Donations


VANCOUVER - Union and corporate political donations would be banned under an NDP government, a move leader Adrian Dix says would restore public faith in democracy, while the Liberals say it could eventually lead to taxpayers subsidizing political parties.

In a speech Sunday, Dix renewed his promise to ban union and corporate donations if he's elected in a month. Dix said large donations that aren't from individuals are causing the public to lose faith in politicians.

“The influence of big money continues to hurt our democracy," Dix said, addressing media at a Vancouver community centre.

He said if the NDP wins the May 14 election, the party would ensure donations could only come from individuals, a policy that would take effect in January.

"Returning individual citizens to the centre of our political process is at the core of efforts to restore faith that those we elect are acting in the broader public interest," Dix said

But Liberal Minister Mary Polak said that only tells a partial story.

The Liberals are the only major player left in B.C. politics that objects to an outright ban of corporate and union donations, a stance Polak attributes to its "straightforward" attitude.

"We're not trying to choose issues that pander to one part of the voting base," she said in a telephone interview.

"The reality is, in jurisdictions where you ban union and corporate donations, what you end up with is taxpayers funding political parties," Polak said. "That's what we've seen federally, and it's what you see commonly in jurisdictions where they make these bans."

She pointed to a system introduced by former-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in 1993 that saw per-vote subsidies given to parties in lieu of corporate and union donations as proof taxpayers would eventually hold the tab.

Without corporate and union donations, Polak said parties will eventually look elsewhere when individual donations don't come through, adding individual donations don't work because political parties aren't often at the top of people's financial giving lists in difficult economic times.

Polak argued the current system adequately shows which private corporations and unions are making donations.

"It's all reported for the public to see, so there's nothing that's secret," Polak added.

Dix said an NDP government would create a legislative committee in the fall, made up of representatives of all the political parties, that would examine donations and make recommendations to make the process more transparent.

The committee would include elected Independents, he said, as well as representation from any party that received at least five per cent of the popular vote but failed to win a seat in Victoria.

Dix said he hopes the changes would lead to greater transparency in the financing of political parties and government books.

BC Conservative leader John Cummins released his own statement after Dix's announcement. He said he proposed a similar donation ban more than two years ago, when he first agreed to run as the party's leadership candidate.

"I have long believed that special interests, insiders and cronies have had too much influence in politics," Cummins statement said.

"Its better late than never for Adrian Dix and the NDP to come round to our point of view," he added. "We hope that it is only a matter of time before they agree with us on getting spending under control and cutting taxes as well."

Current Elections BC rules state that any person or corporation that contributes more than $250 in money, goods or services must disclose the date and value of each donation, as well as their full name. They must also disclose whether they are making the donation on behalf of an individual, corporation, unincorporated business, union, or non-profit.

British Columbians go to the polls May 14 and although both parties have been campaigning furiously, the contest doesn't officially start until Tuesday.

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