Open Letter to Minister of Justice and Attorney General Shirley Bond

IntegrityBC wrote the following open letter to Minister of Justice and Attorney General Shirley Bond regarding electoral finance reform

April 17th, 2012

Dear Minister:

Thank you for your letter of March 7th in reply to our letter of December 12th on electoral finance reform.

While it is encouraging to read that the government intends to implement the recommendations of the Local Government Elections Task Force in time for the 2014 elections, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that these recommendations were first tabled in May 2010 and that the government had more than sufficient time to put them in place for last year’s elections if it had chosen to make them a legislative priority.

And although last October’s Throne Speech did not include a reference to the legislation that you have indicated will be forthcoming in regards to the Task Force, we look forward to reviewing the legislation when it is tabled and trust that the government will be open to amendments that may be put forward at that time.

However, we would draw issue with you referring to the Task Force as “independent.” As you know one of its two co-chairs (Mr. Bill Bennett) was a minister serving in the government at that time who already held strong views on many of the issues that would ultimately be heard by the Task Force; and the two MLAs who sat on the Task Force were also both drawn from the Liberal caucus. In fact, not a single member of the Task Force represented the official opposition or any other political party. It is difficult to accept that such a composition qualifies the Task Force for being characterized as “independent.”

If the government is sincere in wishing to address the very real deficiencies that exist with B.C.’s electoral finance laws at the local and provincial levels, it must go far further than the Task Force’s recommendations do in any legislation that may be tabled during this session.

Campaign spending limits in and of themselves will not restore the public’s confidence in the electoral process unless they are accompanied by a cap on the amount any donor can give and an outright ban on corporate and union donations; a ban that must also extend to donors who do not reside in B.C. Without such a cap and ban, it would be entirely feasible for a single donor to bankroll an entire political campaign creating at the very least the perception of impropriety, if not the reality of it.

Surprisingly – despite 134 submissions that called for a cap on campaign donations – the Task Force sided with the 31 that preferred to continue with the no limit practice currently in place in B.C. The Task Force also sided with the minority over the right of a company or union being able to donate to a candidate or party.

The support for these reforms is already wide-spread among British Columbians and cuts across political ideologies. In a public opinion survey conducted last November for IntegrityBC by OraclePoll Research, three out of four respondents felt that there should be limits on how much any one person can donate to a candidate or political party; less than one in three B.C. voters supported the idea that corporations and unions should be allowed to donate; and only one in three supported the idea that those living outside B.C. should be allowed to donate.

Even more telling? Four of B.C.’s major political parties are now publicly on record supporting a ban on corporate and union donations. Only one party – the BC Liberals – remains opposed. As we noted in our December letter to you: electoral finance reform will come to B.C. The only question is who will lead the process.

We would be remiss if we did not address two other statements in your letter. It is disingenuous to claim that B.C. has “rigorous reporting requirements” for political contributions when B.C.’s rules are among the most lax in Canada.

Equally, it is incorrect to state that caps on private donations would lead to public funding of political parties. This is certainly not the case in some provinces such as Alberta where a cap exists, and we would note that public financing of political parties already exists in B.C. through the form of tax credits. And, as we trust you know, IntegrityBC believes the issue of public funding of political parties, election rebates and numerous other related issues should be decided upon by an arms length Citizen’s Assembly.

Finally, we extend again our hope that we could meet to discuss these issues of paramount importance to B.C. democracy.

Sincerely,

 

Dermod Travis

Executive Director

IntegrityBC

Hon. Ida Chong, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development