B.C.’s ‘Wild West’: Where loyalty comes to die

Corporate donors cover all political bases when it comes to getting what they want

Political campaigns approach elections believing that 20 per cent of voters will not change their mind about which party they are going to support. But the rest — the 80 per cent of people who will spend time listening to the candidates and learning about issues, can be convinced.

Campaigns focus almost entirely on this latter group. They spend time crafting and targeting messaging that would appeal to specific communities to bring them over to their side. These voters will probably change their preference several times, and maybe not even decide until they are standing in that voting booth, pencil in hand, whose box they’ll tick.

With corporate donors, though, it would seem unlikely that they too would be weighing their options about who to support on election day. After all, most of them have doled out thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars to one party or the other leading up to the vote. But it might surprise you to know that big companies can and do switch teams last minute. In fact, several corporations gave to both the BC Liberals and the BC NDP throughout this past campaign period, and in others prior as well.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Eight out of the top 10 BC Liberal donors in 2016 were from the real estate sector. As of 2016, the Aquilini family — through their sports and development companies — was the second highest donor to the BC Liberals, bankrolling them $1.4 million since 2005. They have donated solely to the BC Liberals during the past four years. Yet suddenly, this past February, they gave $100,000 to the BC NDP.

Maybe the Aquilinis suddenly changed their political views. Maybe it was because the B.C. budget — introduced February 21, the day before their big donation to the NDP — didn’t meet their needs.

Or maybe it’s because polling, published the day before, indicated a dead heat between the BC NDP and the BC Liberals, and the company wanted to cover all bases.

The family’s track record could be a clue as to whether they had a change of values or were simply hedging their bet. You see, this is not the first time the Aquilini Group has had a pre-election change of heart.

In the months leading up the 2013 election, they gave $115,000 to the BC NDP. And just like they did this year, one of those donations — a cheque worth $100,000 — was given the day after initial polling came out placing the BC NDP squarely in the lead.

This isn’t the only example of a company switching between their blue and orange jerseys. Teck Resources is a gigantic company in the province, largely mining coal used to make steel. They are the largest donor to the BC Liberals — giving more than $2.8 million to the party since 2005. In all fairness, the company has donated to both the BC Liberals and the BC NDP over the years, although their contributions to the NDP haven’t been more than $1,000 in non-election years (presumably these were for tickets to fundraising events.) But in both 2013 and 2017 — election years — Teck gave the NDP cheques worth $50,000.

Their most recent cheque to the BC NDP was given on April 27, 2017, the day after Christy Clark’s epic flip on U.S. thermal coal exports. Although she claimed her proposal would not affect B.C. produced steelmaking coal, skeptics were not convinced that was evident in the policy proposal.

Strange timing for a donation if we’re to believe these Big Money gifts are strictly to do with political alignment, not persuading favourable policy for the companies handing them out.  

A cursory glance at the donations given from April 1, 2017 until May 9, 2017 show thirty-one companies gave to both the BC NDP and the BC Liberals in the weeks preceding the election. Companies such as former BC Liberal minister Kevin Falcon’s Anthem Properties, logging giant Canfor, Gwyn Morgan’s oil and gas producer Encana, Gateway Casinos, the list goes on.

This doesn’t even consider other companies, like Teal-Jones, Fraser Surrey Docks and Atco, who gave to the BC Liberals throughout 2016 and into 2017, then switched to the BC NDP in the months leading up to the election.

Maybe all these companies couldn’t make up their mind. Or, maybe, they were putting eggs in both baskets, playing the polls and hoping it would pay off to their advantage.

This is the problem with the ‘Wild West’. Corporations don’t appear to have allegiances. They are businesses in pursuit of profit, and at the end of the day, all they care about is their bottom line. So if a couple hundred thousand dollars will help them seal the deal on their interests in B.C., they will donate to whomever has the best chance of winning the election and continuing to do business with them.

While politicians don’t think Big Money clouds their judgement, corporations shelling out for their campaigns clearly do think it’s worth the investment.

As a spokesperson for Calgary-based road builder company LaFarge stated: “We view political donations as one of several tools we have in our tool box for our government advocacy in British Columbia… We would disadvantage ourselves if we didn’t take advantage of all the tools we have in our toolbox.”

And, in case you were wondering, yes, LaFarge is another bet hedger. The company has historically donated to the BC Liberals — giving only the BC NDP three times, once in 2013 and twice in 2017.

Banning Big Money is the first step. We need strict donation laws to rein the ‘Wild West’. But that’s not all. We deserve to know whether, and how, these donations influenced political decisions that have already been made. Because if corporations have been getting favours in return for their contributions, those informal agreements between politicians and their former patrons could still affect British Columbians even after we ban Big Money.

Unless we do something about it.

Join the call for a Corruption Inquiry.

www.CorruptBC.ca

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