B.C. Liberal party expenses out-of-whack

by Dermod Travis,

Sometimes when you want to know how prudent a political party will be with the taxpayer’s dime, it doesn’t hurt to consider how prudent they are when it comes to spending their own dime at party headquarters.
As a government, the B.C. Liberal party has exhibited diametrically opposing approaches to the public purse: on one hand the cupboard is bare when it comes to fixing vandalized school equipment at Vancouver’s Richard McBride School, on the other it’s bursting at the hinges when it comes to finding $64 million for feel-good government advertising.
But when it comes to their own operations are the B.C. Liberals spendthrifts or skinflints?
Compared to their counterparts in other provinces, the B.C. Liberal party spends like there’s no tomorrow. And it’s spending that more-and-more points to something ominous: election campaigns that never end.
First though, consider how much political parties in other provinces spend on their operations.
In 2011, there were four parties in the Alberta legislature, each with a party machine, and all preparing for a 2012 general election.
Together, the Progressive Conservative party, the Wildrose Alliance, Alberta Liberals and the NDP spent $7.5 million.
In Quebec, the Liberals and Parti Quebecois – also preparing for a 2012 election – spent a total of $8.8 million.
Since 2011 was an election year in Ontario a year-to-year comparison isn’t really fair, but in 2010 the Ontario Liberals spent $7.1 million.
Not to be outdone by their counterparts, the B.C. Liberal party spent more than $9 million.
They outspent all four parties in Alberta combined, the two major Quebec parties together, and $2 million more than the Ontario Liberals spent in 2010.
Some could counter that since Alberta has fewer voters, political parties don’t need to spend at the rate a party might in British Columbia.
Well, those four Alberta parties spent $3.34 per registered voter.
The B.C. Liberals on their own spent $3.06 per voter. For number crunchers the B.C. NDP spent $5.1 million or $1.74 per voter, not too shabby either.
While part of the spending by the B.C. Liberals may be attributed to one-time costs for their 2011 leadership campaign, the Alberta Progressive Conservatives had a leadership convention in 2011, as did the B.C. NDP.
Spending by the B.C. Liberals points to one of the many perils of an electoral financing regime where there’s no cap on donations.
It’s as though party apparatchiks are ripping a page from the script of Field of Dreams when a voice in that film whispered to farmer Ray Kinsella: “if you build it, he will come,” with the B.C. Liberals paraphrasing it to: “if we raise it, we will spend it.”
Nonetheless, it’s ironic that after spending more than $1.8 million on salaries in 2011, the B.C. Liberals still couldn’t scratch together a few thousand dollars for that now infamous ‘Can’t Afford Dix’ website that they sloughed off on their taxpayer-paid cousins at the legislature.
But this level of spending also points to the emergence of perpetual campaigns in B.C., where election day is only the eve of the next campaign.
The good folk in Iowa know perpetual campaigns well. Only days after last month’s presidential vote, Senator Marco Rubio, one of the expected aspirants for the Republican 2016 nomination, visited the state which will hold the first caucus in 2016.
It’s the type of campaign that former federal Liberal party leaders Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff understand, and NDP leader Tom Mulcair is beginning to experience.
And it’s something that British Columbians may need to prepare themselves for May 15th, the day after the province’s next election.

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC