Today in the legislature I spoke at second reading strongly in favour of Bill 3 – Election Amendment Act, 2017. This is the Bill that eliminates corporate and union donations in BC politics. In my speech, which I reproduce below (in text and video), I attempt to address many of the issues that have come up in the public debate of this bill.
A. Weaver: It gives me great pleasure to rise and take my place in second reading debate of Bill 3, Election Amendment Act, 2017, a bill that I will speak, obviously, in favour of.
This bill culminates many, many years of public pressure, of opposition pressure, of desire across British Columbia to actually get big money out of B.C. politics. When we made campaign finance reform one of our top priorities in the last election, we did so as a matter of principle. We recognized that it was not right for unions and corporations to fund political parties.
The B.C. Green Party took the position that if we were going to criticize others for receiving union and corporate donations, we should not be receiving them ourselves. It was almost exactly a year ago today that we, the B.C. Green Party, stopped accepting union and corporate donations, and do you know what, hon. Speaker? Our fundraising went through the roof as a direct consequence of that, because British Columbians want big money out of politics.
As I go through my comments here, I’ll draw attention to this, because it’s very relevant to what we see today. If the B.C. Liberals truly feel, as a matter of principle, that public financing, transitional financing is not what they can support, then I encourage them to do the principled approach, the approach that B.C. Greens took, and not accept it, and fight to change it in the future.
I’ll come to some precedent for this, and I’ll talk about why what is before us here in the Legislature is based on good public policy. When it became clear to us that a minority government was in the works, this was one of our top priorities. We wanted to work with whichever government formed the majority, with our support in the House, to ensure that this became a top priority.
We had five basic principles that we wanted to see in place. We wanted to see the elimination of special interests in B.C. elections — that is, we wanted to ensure that all forms of corporate and union influence were removed, including in-kind contributions. We’re pleased to see that here in the legislation before us.
We wanted to ensure that there was a limit on the influence that existing corporate and union donations could have on future elections. That is, we were concerned, of course, that in the aftermath of the last election, massive corporate fundraising or union fundraising campaigns could be done in advance of banning big money and put away in little cubbyholes for use in a future election.
We wanted to ensure that non-residents could not donate to B.C. elections. Now, I recognize that I received a couple of small donations from my family who live around the world, and that won’t be allowed anymore, but I think we can forgo that. As a matter of principle, the B.C. Greens did not actually criticize others for accepting those, because we recognized that family members were supporting members in this House in the legislation.
The second thing that we wanted to ensure was that B.C. had one of the lowest individual contributions in this country. Now, what we would believe is the gold standard in British Columbia is the Quebec standard, with massive public financing. We recognize that $100 per individual might be something that was not palatable to everyone, and we agree that $1,200 is a wonderful compromise. It’s $100 per month, making us the second-lowest limit in Canada. This puts donating to political parties in the very reach of all individuals, so that each person has a very similar role in terms of funding that is not only left there for the rich and wealthy.
We’ve heard comment from opposite, time and time again, that this bill is an affront to democracy and that somehow the taxpayer is now being asked to fund what otherwise individuals were. That’s actually not true. It’s not true at a very fundamental level. Every donation that a corporation made, up to the maximum corporation credit, was able to get up to $500 of a tax credit. But not only that. A donation would not be considered revenue; it would be considered an expense, the cost of doing business in British Columbia.
The number of times I heard that donating to the B.C. Liberals was the cost of doing business — very important words, because that’s a write-off in B.C. I can’t count the number of times. You know, the taxpayer was subsidizing, because for every dollar that cost of doing business was given to the B.C. Liberals, 11 cents was not coming to the taxpayer, because they were not paying that corporate tax rate. But they were also claiming the $500 tax credit.
I’ve heard time and time again here today that somehow people have no choice as to who they fund now. Again, the people of British Columbia are smart. The B.C. Liberals take them for fools. They recognize that in the transitional allowance, you do have a say as to who you fund. It’s who you vote for. So each person, for the price of about the same as it costs to get a Starbucks grande if you bring your own cup — $2.50 in year one — actually donates to a political party.
We’ve heard story after story in this Legislature of the type of gifts to donors, those corporate elites who’ve given to the B.C. Liberals. What has come back? We’re talking about $2.50 a year. A Starbucks grande in your own cup. That’s the cost to the taxpayer. I’ll come to that more later.
The third thing we wanted to ensure, and we’re so pleased to see it in this bill, is that overall spending limits were reduced. We see that happening here both for political parties and for third parties.
The fourth thing we wanted to see is that loopholes would be closed to avoid the U.S.-style super PAC system, a system where money flows to unaccountable third parties in lieu of flowing directly to the political parties at play. Again, we’re excited by some of the offerings in this bill. Finally, we wanted to have this bill tabled first or early in the new session.
We’re very pleased that the B.C. Liberals did, in the summer, introduce a bill that was part of a political show to actually ensure that confidence was given to them in the lead-up to the Premier having to see the Lieutenant-Governor.
Our understanding is there’s a lot of good stuff in the bill that the B.C. Liberals introduced in the summer and reproduced here in the private member’s bill by the member for Vancouver-Quilchena.
We also appreciate that the Premier promised in the election — a promise which was met — that banning big money would be the first bill he would introduce in the Legislature, the first bill that was brought in. Obviously, he’s not counting the bill to note the supremacy of the Crown. This happened indeed. So we’re very, very excited by the prospects of this bill passing in the Legislature.
This bill does a number of things. First off, it puts a ban on contributions from non-eligible individuals where an eligible individual is defined as a resident of British Columbia and a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident. No longer can any person, entity, union or corporation anywhere in the world donate any amount of money anytime they want to any political party they want. Now you actually have to live in B.C. You actually have to be a resident of B.C.
We’re also excited that prior contributions cannot be put forward to the next election, and we’re excited that $1,200 is now the limit in terms of what an individual can donate. What’s important, too, is that specified fundraising functions in private residences and the other fundraising functions now have conditions associated with them. A “specified fundraising function” is now defined as a function held by a political party that has a member of the executive council, a parliamentary secretary or a leader of a major political party in attendance.
This is important. No longer can you pay $25,000 for exclusive events with somebody inside the decision-making cabinet in the province of British Columbia. In private residences, no more can people host pay-for-access events that charge anything greater than $100 for access as a front up — another good addition in this Legislature. And all other fundraising events, regardless of location, that meet the definition of “specified fundraising function” have additional disclosure and transparency requirements. Again, we’re very pleased with this.
The $1,200 limit per individual makes us the second-lowest max limit in Canada for personal contributions. This is exciting because you can donate $1,200, but you can’t find loopholes. Okay, we’ll allow $1,200 for leadership races as well, but you can’t donate $1,200 to the party and then $1,200 to each of the constituency associations across the province as well. It’s $1,200 one-off.
Now, this is a very important addition, and I would argue that government gave up a lot here, because on the government side, most ridings have what are called constituency associations. These are independent political entities for which a case could have been made that you could donate $1,200 to each constituency association and then $1,200 to the government as well. That’s not happening. It’s $1,200 — period. That’s something that the B.C. NDP gave up, and it’s something that put them at a disadvantage to the Liberals, who have riding associations that are not separate political entities. It’s the same with the B.C. Greens. We have the riding associations, not the separate political entities called constituency associations.
This bill also creates new party and candidate expense limits. Again, this is exciting. It’s exciting because it’s not a race to the bottom. We’re finding roughly a 25 percent reduction in the overall limit of what can be spent in elections, and we have new expense limits for the political parties and candidates during the campaign period. For political parties, the $116,000 multiplied by the number of eligible voters, about 3.66 million, is the limit. Candidates in ridings have $58,000 as the limit.
Again, you can run a good campaign — I think that’s about what we spent in this last campaign, or something like that — on $58,000.
This bill also creates a new system of allowances and reimbursements for political parties. This is where there seems to be some discontent in the official opposition. The new allowance is providing a transitional allowance that decreases over five years, and I’ll outline it here as follows. In 2018, it’s $2.50 per vote received in the 2017 provincial election. In 2019, it’s $2.25 a vote. In 2020, it’s $2.00 a vote. In 2021, it’s $1.75 a vote. And in 2022, it’s also $1.75 a vote, going to committee after that stage.
Now, the righteous indignation coming from opposite would suggest that somehow this is abhorrent. The member for Chilliwack-Kent berated all of us here, thinking that somehow this is impossible to imagine. Yet it’s exactly what happened federally. When Mr. Chrétien was the Prime Minister, we brought in per-vote funding that transitioned to zero as afterwards, through the Harper administration, as the government moved from a per-vote system in the free-for-all that used to exist, a transitional allowance to take us to the refund 50 percent after.
Now, what is remarkable, what is truly remarkable about the discourse that we’re hearing here is that it is the B.C. Greens who would benefit most if there was no transitional allowance. But would democracy benefit most? I don’t think so.
If we eliminated the transitional allowance today, nothing would change for the B.C. Green Party. Our fundraising would be identical to what it is. We’ve already banned union and corporate donations. Almost all of our donations, 90-something percent, come from donations under $1,200 a year. We’ve got thousands and thousands of people donating small amounts. But it is the B.C. Liberals and the B.C. NDP that would be hurled into chaos when suddenly they move from millions of dollars a year to a few hundred thousand dollars a year, initially, of fundraising. Gone are their corporate and union donations. Is this good for democracy? I don’t know. I don’t think so.
The irony here is the B.C. Greens support this transitional subsidy precisely because we think it’s important for democracy, for us to transition from the Wild West to the wonderful west by moving and allowing our main political parties the resources that they need to function in this transition, because otherwise, democracy in British Columbia will be in a state, and we don’t believe that is in the best interests of British Columbians.
Now, I’ll come to some specific examples of that in a second, but as I mentioned, federally, there’s a reimbursement of 50 percent of your expenses if you get something like above…. I believe it’s 5 percent in your riding and 2 percent thereafter. These are important decisions that can be made in time as to what those actual numbers are in British Columbia, what they will be as we evolve.
You know, right now it says we require a candidate to win 10 percent of the total number of valid votes in a riding and a party to win 10 percent. We think that that might be overly punitive to those parties which are starting out or those candidates who might want to run independently. We think of Vicki Huntington, the former MLA for Delta South, who received a significant fraction of the vote but might not have qualified as a political party here.
We need to look out for the independents in this legislation as we move forward. We need to look out for new parties — the B.C. Conservative Party, which may emerge as a force to be considered with in British Columbia, the B.C. Libertarian Party, the B.C. First Party, the B.C. Peoples Party. There are numerous parties that might emerge, and we don’t want to put limits in place. What’s in this legislation is a fantastic starting point that we can build upon as we move forward. I’m also excited about the fact that there are new third-party sponsorship rules in both the campaign and pre-campaign period. This, again, is very, very important to us.
Let’s take a look at what some other provinces do, because that’s important. Again, the righteous indignation coming from the opposite side. Somehow this is an affront to the British Columbian taxpayer.
I’ve talked about Canada. What about Ontario? Following the cash-for-access scandals, which pale in comparison to the scandals here in British Columbia, what they did in Ontario was this, in 2016. They had a transitional allowance. Sound familiar? It’s exactly the same as happened here in B.C., except they started at $2.71 per vote in 2016, being reduced over the pace of five years, precisely like is being proposed here in British Columbia today, except less.
We can look at Quebec. Quebec has a very, very aggressive public financing component. They have a $100 per person limit, but a very, very substantive public financing component, such that 75 percent of all political party financing comes from public financing. That’s an extreme. The one extreme is where we were. Quebec is the other extreme. What’s being put forward today is right there on the Quebec side in terms of innovation and leadership in Canada.
Let’s take a look at Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Manitoba. They all have public funding, transitional allowance, in some form or another. But again, the righteous indignation is somehow that British Columbia is going rogue on taxpayers, when virtually every other province in Canada does. But it goes further than that.
I could quote the Vancouver Sun just to give some sense of what some pundits out there are saying. I’ll come to the OECD, with very specific quotes from them and other nations in there, but let’s just have a quick look at the Vancouver Sun, which pointed out that 33 out of 34 nations in the OECD have some form of public funding.
Are we somehow going rogue? No. The only nation that doesn’t is Switzerland, but they have their own special process for funding. Frankly, the canton system, with four official languages, is something that I think you could have entire courses talking about here in the Legislature, let alone the few minutes that I have here.
Let’s take a look at what was said in this Douglas Todd article published on September 23. “But in the rough-and-tumble world of politics, that’s a relatively minor infraction compared to the moral chaos” — those are his words, “moral chaos” — “and mistrust generated by B.C.’s ultra-lax approach to political financing.”
The relatively minor infraction that he was referring to, of course, is the transitional allowance, which “is minor compared to the moral chaos.” Pretty damning. This isn’t coming from the New York Times, which took it to another level. This is coming from right here in B.C.
You know, one of the reasons why it’s important to actually think about the transitional allowance in the sense of good democracy is pointed out by the OECD in their report entitled Financing Democracy: Funding of Political Parties and Election Campaigns and the Risk of Policy Capture. This is no kind of rogue right-wing think tank or left-wing kind of group of people. This is the OECD, an international organization that is putting together best practices, policy recommendations, for the developed nations in this world.
Let’s have a look at what that means. As they say in the OECD report, and as Mr. Todd points out: “They do so to reduce the risk that vested interests will indulge in ‘policy capture,’ which refers to how powerful donors skew politicians’ legislation to suit their monetary interests.”
You don’t have to listen to me. You don’t have to believe me. I get that there might be some opposite who don’t think that this is happening. I get that you might be cynical of the now government who was in opposition for 16 years. But why don’t we turn to a former member of that party, Moira Stilwell. Moira Stilwell is the former member for Vancouver-Langara, a good friend and colleague who was banished to the leper colony out here in the far right of the Legislature for daring to challenge the prevailing wisdom by the political elite inside the B.C. Liberal Party by daring to stand up for what’s right and having integrity.
For daring to say what she thinks, banished to the leper colony, along with the member for Surrey–White Rock, who was banished to the other side, the Ebola colony here on the left. This is what she said.
This is what she said: “The idea that politicians are not influenced by money is not true, and everybody knows it.” Those aren’t my words. “Democracy costs money. But pay to play is out of hand.” Those are Dr. Stilwell’s words, a former member of this government’s cabinet who did not run again. Frankly, I believe that if we saw the way this esteemed colleague was treated…. I understand why she didn’t run again. Frankly, I’m shocked at some others who did run under the conditions that prevailed within the B.C. Liberal Party.
Let’s continue here. An OECD report recommends striking a balance between private and public funding and, of course, eliminating union and corporate funding. Let me give you a quote from this report. It’s an important quote. It says this: “While private donation is a channel of political participation, if the financing of political parties in election campaigns is not adequately regulated, money may also be a means for undue influence and policy capture by powerful special interests. In this context, public financing helps to sustain the institutionalization of political parties in democracy. Such public support strengthens the capacity of political parties to level the electoral playing field.”
This is really about trust in government. What this bill is advancing is efforts to try to rebuild trust in government in British Columbia, trust that has long gone by the wayside in recent years. For far too long, people were left to ask whether special interests were getting too much access to our decision-makers. Again, I don’t know how many business leaders I met in this province who told me straight to my face that donating to the B.C. Liberals was the cost of doing business in British Columbia. I’ve got worse than that. I don’t want to go on about….
A. Weaver: I’m not saying it isn’t so because it is so, and the members opposite know that it’s so. They’re very shy, very quiet, very sheepish, very smug right now. They know that this legislation is doing what’s right. They know that they’re put in a time-out here in the B.C. Legislature because of their behaviour in recent years with pay to play that became, frankly, objectionable to the average British Columbian.
The most important thing that this minority government can do is rebuild trust in government. This bill goes a long way to doing just that.
As we move forward, we will look at this bill carefully. We’ll look at this bill as well as the bill that the member for Vancouver-Quilchena put in to see if there are any nudges or modifications that we might be able to bridge party lines to discuss.
Let me give you one example that I think we might get some all-party agreement on. It’s the example with respect to election communication. Frankly, I believe that the definition of election communication in the B.C. Liberal bill is better than the one in the government’s bill. I think that we might be able to find some commonality here. I think, in this Legislature, strong and principled arguments will lead to, and ultimately give, a prevailing wisdom of goodwill.
Let’s bring that amendment forward. Let’s debate it here. Let’s see if we can’t build support on the government side for that legislation. There may be others.
Deputy Speaker: Members, wait for your turn, please. The member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head has the floor.
A. Weaver: Thank you, hon. Speaker. They are a feisty bunch, sitting there sheepishly in opposition after being put there in a time-out by the small but mighty B.C. Green Party.
There are other points in here. We’ll look again at whether there are any points where transparency can be even further enhanced. We’ll look to see whether there will be some changes to assist, maybe, smaller parties that might have been unduly overlooked in this. We recognize that government has done an incredible job in a very short time. We also recognize that there are ideas on opposite. We recognize that there are other ideas.
This legislation will pass. There may be one or two adjustments. We’ll see. We’ll see what the debate leads to. But right now it’s a great starting point for British Columbia.
I come back to the very beginning. It’s a bit rich for us to stand here and listen to the righteous indignation — I like those words — of the B.C. Liberals, Liberals who had made an additional cost on every corporation’s line here in the province of British Columbia. It’s called this, this, this — cost of doing business: donation to the B.C. Liberals.
B.C. is now a better place to do business, I’m telling Canadians and I’m telling the international community. You can do business now here in B.C. because you can do so for free. You don’t have to pay-to-play in British Columbia. With the passage of this bill, business is open for B.C., but it’s open for everybody in this world, not just those who donate to the B.C. Liberals. I look forward to this bill passing in due course.