It is astonishing how badly Premier John Horgan mishandled his sudden announcement that after a decade of crusading against “big money” in B.C. politics, he was reversing his often-stated position and moving to siphon millions from the provincial treasury to prop up established political parties.
For someone who can’t stop bragging about leading a new government for “the people” instead of special interests, Horgan’s decision to lavishly reward his own special interest, and to do it while totally misreading the public mood, is difficult to understand. He’s been premier for two whole months and he’s already lost touch.
It wasn’t just a couple of interviews in the lead-up to the spring election, where he either denied any intention of replacing corporate and union donations with “big money” from taxpayers, or professed to have “no opinion” because an independent panel would take that decision from politicians’ hands.
It was his constant reference to legislation the NDP tabled six times in opposition, which made no mention of a party subsidy starting at $2.50 per vote. That evolving NDP legislation came to include an arms-length panel to remove the obvious conflict of interest that occurs when politicians set their own pay and perks.
That’s all discarded now, replaced by a brazen looting of the public purse, as predicted by B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark during the election campaign. Horgan mocked that as “alternative facts” at the time.
Lost in the main looting is another provision for taxpayers to reimburse political parties for half of their election-year expenses, on top of the per-vote subsidy and the generous tax credits for those who may still wish to donate voluntarily to political parties.
(When this welfare-for-parties scheme was introduced at the federal level by Jean Chretien, one of the effects was to prop up the separatist Bloc Quebecois for years as their voluntary cash dried up.)
In the case of the NDP, your taxes replace the compulsory union dues of United Steelworkers members, whose leaders directly paid top NDP campaign staff in the election this spring to the tune of more than $600,000. Unions win, you lose.
All told, it comes to about $27 million in tax money handed to the NDP, Green Party and the B.C. Liberals over the next four years, in what Horgan falsely claimed is a temporary measure.
Green leader Andrew Weaver allows that his party would benefit by millions in unearned subsidies, adding that the big parties would be in “free fall” without an unearned substitute for corporate and union donations. This claim is questionable at best.
The government’s breakdown of B.C. campaign financing shows individual donations totalling $6.8 million in 2016, almost as much as the $7.1 million from corporations. Unions came in at $1.7 million, a total that has been declining as smaller individual donations have climbed.
Indeed, Horgan has boasted for years about the NDP’s success with individual donors. Former party president Moe Sihota lamented a few years ago that much of it comes from the wills of dead people, but no matter. Now “crowdfunding” is all the rage, as demonstrated so ably by Justin Trudeau and others at the federal level.
Stephen Harper did away with welfare for political parties, and the Conservatives have continued to kick the federal Liberals’ butts on individual fundraising, even last year as opposition with an interim leader.
This is a key issue for the B.C. Liberal leadership contest. Penticton MLA Dan Ashton was first to state he won’t accept direct taxpayer money for his election campaign. Maybe he should have run.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press.