B.C. is overdue for a corruption inquiry

Heads rolled in the federal sponsorship scandal, and politics is better for it

Dinner parties with foreign billionaires, charter flights, private islands, selfies with Bono and Kevin Spacey  – it might sound like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, but to Canadians it hits a bit too close to home, or rather a bit too close to 24 Sussex, the home of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In an effort to shake the controversy, Trudeau started off the new year on a cross-country tour of Canada (although he skipped out on talking to the people of B.C.). The trip was designed for the Prime Minister to connect with “real Canadians” in coffee shops and church basements across the country.

The Liberals hoped if the public saw the Prime Minister with his sleeves casually rolled up talking with everyday people, we would feel more connected to him and forgive him his membership in the one per cent. For this tour, Trudeau had, after all, forgone this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, where the global elite — world leaders, rich people, celebrities and people who fall into all three categories — meet to discuss world affairs. (This is where Trudeau took the aforementioned Bono-Spacey selfie last year.)

But it hasn’t worked. “Real Canadians” are not so easily won over — in fact, Trudeau is less popular now than when he began his tour. Pipelines, Indigenous rights, the Pheonix pay system and refugees dominated the town hall topics, as did concerns about Trudeau’s fancy island getaway and his $1,500-a-plate, cash-for-access fundraisers.

We over here in B.C. are thinking “$1,500 fundraisers? I wish!” Because in our province there is no limit on political donations. Corporations, unions and out-of-province donors can give politicians large cheques and nobody bats an eye. This means British Columbia politicians are hosting $20,000 per plate cash-for-access fundraisers. Kinda makes $1,500 seem like chump change.

Trudeau has bowed to public pressure and pledged to introduce legislation to force political fundraisers out of private mansions and into publicly accessible venues. Meanwhile, Christy Clark continues on with her smokescreen plan, ferrying in donors to secret dinner parties in vans with tinted windows.

Why have the federal Liberals been dogged by this scandal while our provincial politicians continue on their merry way? Why are there limits on donations to federal parties, but not on their provincial counterparts? Both of these questions can be answered in a story — the Liberal sponsorship scandal.

How AdScam torpedoed the Big Red Machine

After the 1995 referendum on Quebec separation, the Liberal-led federal government started a campaign to promote federalism in Quebec. It was an explicit attempt to bolster national pride in the divided province, with the added bonus of detracting attention from the Bloc and Parti Quebecois (because this is politics). In addition to promoting Canadian symbols in Quebec, which included buying a giant maple leaf-shaped hot air balloon, the program set up a fund to sponsor sporting and cultural events.

These sponsorships were set up by advertising agencies, which acted as intermediaries between government officials and the various events. The advertising agencies received a commission for setting these up and offered kickbacks to the Liberal party in exchange for the contract. In some cases, very little work was done by the agencies, if any.

This kickback scheme carried on for years, at a time when there were no rules about donations to federal political parties – politicians could accept unlimited amounts of money directly from corporations, making the scheme fairly profitable for both the federal Liberal Party and the advertising agencies themselves.

After the retirement of Prime Minister Chretien at the end of 2003, his successor Paul Martin bowed to opposition pressure and initiated the Gomery Inquiry to clear the air. The results of the inquiry stuck hard to the reputations of both Prime Ministers Chretien and Martin, who was the Finance Minister at the time of the scandal, as well as to the Liberal Party in general.

In the wake of the sponsorship scandal, the Liberal government put a cap of $5,000 on individual contributions and banned corporations and unions from donating to a political party – although they were able to donate up to $1,000 to a party’s individual candidate and their ridings association (but not to independents). It did, however, maintain that parties could receive a per-vote subsidy, so taxpayers were put on the hook to help political parties of all colours.

It was too little, too late. The Liberals lost the 2006 election to Stephen Harper, who further limited individual contributions to $1,000 and issued a total ban on corporate and union donations.

Since then, various changes have been made to the political financing system in Ottawa, including the removal of the per-vote subsidy and the incremental raising of the individual donation cap – it now sits at $1,550.

Will British Columbians demand their own inquiry?

The Liberal brand, while significantly rehabilitated by Justin Trudeau, is still tarnished by the memory of the sponsorship scandal. Canadians don’t like the idea of politically-connected elites playing with their tax dollars. Our Prime Minister’s silver-spoon image has made him vulnerable to the accusation that he is out of touch, or doesn’t know the value of a dollar.

Regardless of how many rolled-sleeved shirts he wears or church basements he visits, it is hard for Trudeau to shake his privileged upbringing, especially when he claims to be close personal friends with world leaders. “Real Canadians” are not besties with the Aga Khan or Fidel Castro.

Back to B.C. where we are still wishing for any sort of cap on donations, and our BC Liberal politicians’ response is to laugh at us. We have government decisions being made under the influence of political donations every day, like Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion and Pacific Northwest LNG. The difference is that here, our lawmakers say it’s legal.

Premier Clark needs to be careful. She has too many characteristics in common with world leaders who have been permanently branded as out-of-touch and ignorant of their own voters. Much like Trudeau’s sleeves, her signature hard hat won’t save her, or the BC Liberal brand, if that reputational damage starts to snowball.

What Clark should fear the most is a future government calling a Gomery-style judicial inquiry into her government’s fundraising practices. A lot of skeletons pile up in the closets — and behind tinted windows — after a party has been in power for 16 years. Letting them out could both cripple the BC Liberals’ fundraising prospects and damage the party’s brand for a long time.

Join our call for a Corruption Inquiry.


23 Responses to “B.C. is overdue for a corruption inquiry”

  1. ron wilton says:

    After Site C and pie in the sky LNG, what has BC left to give away? Seems to me that CC and her Lieberals have done their masters bidding and we have nothing left to lose.

    • We still have a lot to loose. People in the lower mainland suffer from air quality now. Wait til it’s become like China. And for now we still have water we can drink from the tap. Once that’s gone/ contaminated were do we purchase it from? and HOW? When we’ve given away our resources we’ve given away our jobs.

      • Gerry says:

        I agree with this original letter wholeheartedly, but I am loath to put all the blame on a government for air pollution in a city where individual people make the decision to drive or not to drive, to buy or not to buy. to insulate or not, etc. Public education is critical. When do we start to take our lives into our own hands and refuse to buy into the madness around us? Push governments at every opportunity, yes, but get people to take responsibility for their own lives and decisions will go along way to reduce the need to fight every issue every time as before. We need to start actively encouraging or neighbours not just shout and complain about our governments….after all, we voted them in!

        • Deb says:

          Here, here! We must take more personal responsibility. We’ve fallen on to the track of having everyone else taking care of things rather than getting involved and helping yourself and your neighbours.

    • Barni says:

      The B.C. Liberals are NOT Liberals. They are the re-incarnation of the old B.C. P.C.’s..Like the P.C.’s they are married to corporate interests. So why anyone could be confused enough to think that the B.C. pseudo-Libs would not genuflect to corporate interests is a mystery.

    • Windyspirit says:

      There is a lot left to lose. She was in the process of bankrupting Hydro and sell off to the highest bidder. She wants to privatize municipal water projects and on and on we go. China owns us.

  2. An example of the problems associated with this sort of pay-to-play politicking is the Mt. Polley tailings pond disaster of Aug. 4, 2014. Because Imperial Metals Corp, the owners of the Mt. Polley Mine, were donors to the BC Liberal party, they were never forced to clean up their massive mess (over 24 million cubic meters of sludge (with over 5 tonnes of mercury!) exploded down Hazeltine Creek, into Polley Lake, the Quesnel River, and Quesnel Lake. The corruption persists to this day! IMC CEO Murray Edwards has shirked responsibility of this disaster, even moving to the UK to avoid scrutiny!

    IS THIS to be “business as usual” under the BC Liberals??? Christy Clark vowed to clean up the Mt. Polley disaster site in 2014. The people of Likely are still waiting!!!

  3. Hadia says:

    Let’s just demand dismissal of all existing politicians and rewrite a realistic and acceptable series of guidelines including refusal to accept corporate pay-offs, inexperience, non-delivery of campaign promises, putting non-taxpaying Corporations before the rights of honest and hard working Taxpayers!

  4. padldousti says:

    We think Canada is democracy, but it is not. It is not rule of people, it is rule of people who control mode of economy and means of production. As a result, the system does not have consent and will of people to govern. This makes the system to become an illegitimate one to remain in power.

  5. James says:

    Enough already… find politicians that care about people and the environment or time to be done with the lot of them. Seriously, we work hard, they steal our money and only serve themselves. Tell it like it is.

  6. Jennifer says:

    If we are doing an inquiry, can we please also demand that the provincial party either shift their platform to match the federal Liberal Party, or change its name to reflect it’s extreme, right-wing conservativism?

    A brand name should accurately inform the nature of the brand. How many unwitting voters in BC think that the BC Liberals are the provincial counterpart to the federal Party of the same name?

    This is the most blatant display of voter manipulation and deception I have seen in politics. Time for Real Change, indeed!

    • Windyspirit says:

      They were decimated under the Social Credit flag and revived under the Liberal flag to get back in.

  7. christopher says:

    I want a public inquiry and financial compensation into my file declared top secret by SIRC the watchdog for CSIS when I spoke to the government of Canada in 1989. I want justice.

  8. william chase says:

    What with the amount of money that Kinder Morgan donated [bought] Christy Clark and her BC Liberal minions, that would be a good place for this proposed Inquiry to start. Meanwhile put any progress on the Trans Mountain Pipeline on hold pending finalization of the Inquiry..

  9. Paul Jorjorian says:

    From the sale of BC Rail to the BC Place renovation fiasco and the sale of Provincial lands below market to their supporters, corruption is embedded in the BC Liberals. .

  10. erlt83 says:

    I know, I know, oh how I long for the Herr Harper days; milk and honey, indigenous respect, scientific independence, climate change a top priority, all dirty oil put on hold.. how can we woo Stevie back to put a meek, loving, fatherly , altruistic hand on the tiller. Stevie and the Conservative MLA’s funded the party by selling newspapers door to door, retrieving those read and chewing them into pulp to be hand made into new paper.

    The Conservatives and NDP always stay at YMCA and YWCA when traveling abroad and pack their own lunches.

    These Liberals are so corrupt, having now paid off the UN and the most respected world leaders to lie about what a competent job he is doing in turning canada around, and how he is held in high esteem. ( I don’t capitalize a country built on stolen ground. I still prefer to call it Turtle Island.) And telling bawld faced lies like having established a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women commission, or beginning to build a land road from Winnipeg to Shoal First Nations. Where was DOGWOOD while my Shoal First Nations relations watched as Winnipeg stole their drinking water supply and turned their community into an island in the process. Does Dogwood know how many died carrying water over the ice or a child to the mainland for medical treatment. Or, when Edmonton breached the Bow to save preferential white suburbs and flooded local First Nations from their lawful lands.

    If Trudeau was a real man like Don’l Trump, he’d plop his butt in his PM office and start signing all of the decrees to fix every problem. ALL HAIL the DON’L. And soon Trudeau will don his cloak of invisibility and we won’t even know if he shows up for work at all. I mean let’s face it, invaders on First Nations Lands, Justin Trudeau has done nothing, nothing, nothing. If we can’t get Stevie back, can we get the Hells Angels biker chick aficionado, and, top secrets lender, Maxine; the moderate Kellie Leitch, or the altruistic Kevie O’Leary, the self appointed champion of the weak and poor. Or just hang onto the non partisan Rhonda Ambrose who never speaks a word that needs to be fact checked; she’s proud to be a Harper girl.

    And, We cannot impose on Tom any longer, he even gave up demanding to be called Thomas, or Mister, just for us, and led, or bloodlet, our fed NDP to slaughter. And, I guess he’s passed on crossing the floor because neither red or blue would receive him….he tried…

    I wish this little rant made me feel better… it doesn’t…. I read, I have a thinking brain. The Dogwood offerings could at least try to reflect those virtues. Christy Clarke is also a Harper girl, only in power because Conservative strategists and Conservative Party dollars were committed by Stevie to ensure the NDP would be defeated. In return Christy offered up old water and land resources for Alberta’s oil fetishes

    As long as the dollar is king how will any PM transform their country into a place fit for human consumption ?

  11. Robert Paille says:

    The BC Liberals do not deserve to govern (control) us anymore. We must do everything in our power (vote) to oust them.

  12. Mike says:

    Corporate influence over a Province, State or Country for economic growth, touted by our elected officials to influence the majority of the population as a good thing, and it is, for them, and for local communities that benefit . Not everyone benefits from the deals made by the 1% and the Government, nor would the 1% benefit always benefit from a Government that supported the 99% . For better or worse that’s the job of the Government to make those deals that balances of the 1% and the 99% .

  13. sharon says:

    How can we get an Audit of BCLiberal’s projects, especially BCHydro: Site C 70-yr debt; smart meter cost/projections; Accenture costs/privacy; run-of-the-river payouts for doing nothing; mining co’s electricity discounts; cost hikes to citizens; private contracts,( eg Fortis, Accenture) cost vs BCHydro crown corp having their own accountable hires (it used to be a credible crown corp) …BCLibs like money & economic data – prove you aren’t using it to steal from the electorate! AUDIT, please

  14. Kate says:

    This and the truth about BC Rail….I sure hope we get to find out!

  15. Cathy says:

    No they didnt pay. The Canadian taxpayers paid $40 million dollars to have it cleaned up & the liberals said that was ok. The company was never taken to court so we could be reimbursed. Another example of Clark letting the rich off the hook for her gain !!😡😡

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