“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin
At this point it’s hard for anyone to justify that B.C.’s ‘Wild West’ of political finance is a good thing. A few weeks ago, I went to a panel at UBC on the Ban Big Money campaign and there wasn’t a single panelist to represent the counter argument — we were all on side. Because there is no justification for not limiting political donations. Unless you are on the receiving end, of course.
As we get closer to election day, Christy Clark and her BC Liberals have to make the case for continuing to ringmaster this circus. And, rather than calling out the system for what it is — acid corroding the framework of our society — she continues to emphasize transparency as the issue. Because there are no calories in ice cream if you can read the ingredients, right?
Premier Clark repetitively touts the same old lines to protect her interests. Here’s one: she says banning Big Money will raise your taxes:
“While the system we have is not perfect and there are lots of things that we can and should do to fix it, a worse system would be one where the money is not given freely and people are forced to support political parties through their taxes.”
But the donations she receives already cost us tax dollars.
Mirroring the federal system, contributions to political parties in B.C. are entitled to a tax credit on a sliding scale depending how much you donate — up to 75 per cent and to a maximum of $500. So if you donate $100 to a politician, you will receive $75 back from the taxpayer-funded pot when you file your taxes.
Ironically, if you donate to a charity, you receive only 5.06 per cent to 14.7 per cent back from the B.C. government. And if you donate to a hard-hitting organization like Dogwood, you are not eligible for a tax refund at all.
And that’s not all. The government has a number of contracts with companies to run its day-to-day business. Printing services with Hewlett Packard, phone and internet with Telus, legal services with Fasken Martineau — all of these companies are donors to the BC Liberals. If the governing party has a financial relationship with service providers, we as taxpayers cannot be assured they are using our money to pay competitive rates for these services. Indeed, we could paying more for these companies to cover the built-in cost of their contributions to the governing party.
On top of that, the province hires contractors to build and maintain things like roads. Between May 2013 and September 2016, the B.C. government contracted 134 different companies to fulfill paving and road maintenance contracts. Of those, roughly a third were donors to Clark’s BC Liberals, yet those donating companies received two times on average the amount of contracts that non-donating companies did. And those donating companies received $758 million in contracts, while non-donating companies only received a total of $539 million — even though there are three times as many of them.
Here’s the problem with that:
So, if the ‘Wild West’ already costs taxpayers, what exactly is Christy Clark threatening us with?
She may be referring to the per-vote subsidy system, where a certain amount of tax dollars are given to political parties based on the proportion of seats they win in each election. This was the system put in place temporarily after federal politicians brought in stricter donation laws.
Clark says: “Most Canadians don’t know that in the last federal election, about $100-million of people’s taxes were diverted away from essential services to subsidize political parties. In terms of where we won’t go if we were re-elected, that would be the only place.”
So she’s collecting millions of dollars in donations because she’s a martyr for the B.C. taxpayer? Nobody believes that. Nor should we believe her other words.
The federal system started the per vote subsidy in 2004 but phased it out in the beginning of 2015. Political parties did not receive a subsidy after the 2015 election. In addition, there isn’t a single reference to $100 million in relation to the 2015 federal election — only that the Conservative party received almost $100 million from the per-vote subsidy program over the ten year period, when they received the majority of votes.
A couple Dogwood volunteers recently met with their BC Liberal MLA and were fed this argument: “How would you feel about your money being directed towards a campaign?” Every one of them agreed — they would rather contribute $5 than allow out-of-province corporations to influence policy in our province.
But they don’t have to. Changing the donation laws will only cost taxpayers if Premier Clark legislates it that way. It would be her choice.
Banning Big Money does not mean you must replace your campaign dollars some other way. How about spending less on your campaign? I’m sure voters would be relieved to receive fewer robocalls, drive by fewer yard signs and see fewer attack ads on TV.
How much does the current system cost taxpayers each year? Find out.