Update: this post was written on June 8, 2017. Since then the ruling BC Liberal party received a vote of non-confidence and the BC NDP, led by John Horgan as premier, has taken power. The new government, with the support of the BC Green caucus, has stated that Ban Big Money laws will be one of their first pieces of legislation.
British Columbians deserve answers
In the coming weeks, politicians — newly electeds and old hands — will get settled in Victoria and the legislature will resume. But in the wake of one of the bloodiest, hard-fought battles we’ve seen in provincial election history, there are many unanswered questions still remaining for British Columbians.
As indicated by John Horgan and Andrew Weaver, it appears the immediate vote of non-confidence will be successful and Premier Christy Clark will soon be replaced by Premier John Horgan. First on his agenda? The BC Greens and the BC NDP, both having campaigned on the promise, are reassuring us that legislation to ban Big Money in B.C. politics is their top priority.
For Dogwood, and the tens of thousands of British Columbians who signed our petitions, called their MLA and helped shine light on the influence of Big Money in lawmaking, this is a fantastic win.
But even if our new government is able to clamp down on the influence of Big Money, even if they introduce the strictest laws in the country, the lasting impacts of B.C.’s Wild West will remain — like the approval of a pipeline and tanker project that explicitly violates First Nations’ rights and puts our families’ health at risk. And the out-of-control housing market that continues to choke young families out of their communities. Just to name two.
British Columbians deserve answers.
We need a Corruption Inquiry
After 16 years of uninterrupted rule by political elites, and millions of dollars in campaign donations, you can bet there are a few skeletons left in the closets of the Premier’s office.
Contracts for major infrastructure projects, approvals of fossil fuel expansion proposals, laws that don’t reflect the needs of everyday British Columbians who live here — all with a suspicious connection to donations to Christy Clark’s BC Liberals.
Here are our top ten reasons for a Corruption Inquiry:
- U.S. trophy hunter Super PAC sends mystery cheque to keep grizzly slaughter open
- Premier flip-flops on Kinder Morgan oil tankers after Alberta oil patch fundraisers
- Massive money-losing Massey toll bridge forced on local mayors
- Health researchers fired in 2012 after Big Pharma donors lean on government
- Mount Polley disaster goes unpunished after owners funnel cash to politicians
- LNG company run by corrupt Malaysian regime finagles fracking, pipeline concessions
- Road paving and transport contracts snapped up by donor companies
- BC Hydro commits billions to Site C contractors, Independent Power Producers
- Real estate barons rake in the cash as ordinary families can’t afford housing
- Secretive Advantage BC program hands out tax breaks to foreign state-owned companies
This list was put together based on issues connected to political donations that have received significant public attention. However, we know it is not complete and we welcome your intel on other government decisions that should be included.
All of these decisions will have lasting effects on this province and the people who live here. Why shouldn’t they be placed under a microscope? And if they were made because Big Money donors were led to believe by the government that paying their way in would result in special treatment, their contracts or permits should be cancelled and sent back to the drawing board.
What about #BanBigMoney?
There’s another reason the public call for an inquiry is important. We need to keep the #BanBigMoney drumbeat pounding. Even though Ban Big Money legislation is on the horizon, there are too many ways the incoming government could water down political finance laws.
Look at Alberta. When the NDP took office there, one of Notley’s first acts as premier was to introduce provincial political finance laws. But because there was no public pressure, she capped the individual contribution limit to $15,000 per year. It was only after organized outcry across the country grew that she introduced a new limit of $4,000 per year, still well above the federal limit of $1,550.
Now let’s look at Quebec. Thanks to their corruption inquiry, the Charbonneau Commission, Quebec has been in the throes of a political overhaul for more than five years and they’ve uncovered scandals that rival any Netflix drama. In 2013, the province limited individual contributions to only $100 per year in an attempt to address their widespread corruption.
Dogwood’s polling has demonstrated that British Columbians want the limit for individual contributions to be under $1,000 — on average, most found $709 to be an adequate annual limit. If we can keep public attention on our new government, new political finance legislation will be robust and actually reflect what British Columbians want.
What does a Corruption Inquiry entail?
An inquiry, also called a commission, is an official review of how the government came to make a decision (or lack thereof). It is created at the request of the Cabinet (government ministers), but conducted by an independent committee, headed by a commissioner. The committee has the power to subpoena evidence and witness testimony. Once the commission is underway, it operates completely independently and the government has no power over it.
Imagine a tv courtroom drama, where lawyers are able to put politicians under oath and get to the bottom of what happened when. Putting whistleblowers and witnesses on the stand might be the only way to get real answers from a government that triple-deletes its emails and, if it is anything like the Progressive Conservatives in Alberta, has already started the shredders.
There have been many notable inquiries in B.C. history. Most recently and most prominently was the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, where Commissioner Wally Oppal looked into the widespread cases of missing and murdered (primarily Indigenous) women on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, as well as the victims of serial killer Robert Pickton.
On a larger scale, think of the Gomery Commission, which investigated the federal Liberal’s sponsorship scandal and whose findings helped shaped federal political donations laws. Or the Charbonneau Commission in Quebec, which continues to bring corrupt public officials and the contractors who bribed them to justice.
What about the other investigations?
There have already been some attempts to address B.C.’s Wild West of political donations. In March, thanks to a bombshell investigation by Kathy Tomlinson, the RCMP mounted an investigation into the allegations of “straw donors” — lobbyists who were buying fundraising tickets and then being reimbursed by the corporations they represent. Doing so breaks one of the few laws B.C. actually does have around political finance. Now the RCMP have referred the case to a Special Prosecutor and it is still ongoing. But the scope of this investigation only includes the straw donors, it is not formally looking at the impact “legal” big donations from corporations have had on decision-making in B.C.
You also may remember Christy Clark’s attempt to rein in B.C.’s Wild West through her “special panel”. Almost every pundit and journalist immediately saw right through this political smokescreen. Just to point out a few key problems: it was to start after the election; she would not let it operate independently; and it had no binding authorities. It was going to be modelled after the Electoral Boundaries Commission, the institution that sets the borders of voter constituencies, and has been accused of gerrymandering. Plus, remember Clark’s climate leadership panel? Yeah.
In short, neither of these will address the ongoing concerns we’ve been hearing on the ground. Precedent set by similar investigations like the Gomery or Charbonneau Commissions indicate a public inquiry is the best way to get the answers we are looking for.
So, how do we get this going?
A new government presents a unique opportunity to launch an independent, thorough investigation, one we haven’t had in 16 years. But the soon-to-be ruling party desperately needs a show of public support to get an investigation rolling.
This is where you come in. We need everyday British Columbians to show the new government we want them launch an official public inquiry. Already more than 1,000 people in B.C. have signed our petition to show their support. Join them now.