Big money, tricky promise

British Columbia's New Democrats are expected to use this week's throne speech to broadly outline how they intend to follow through on their key election promise to get big money out of politics.

But so far details have been scarce and a recent string of NDP fundraisers has at least one political observer suspicious the fledgling government may be getting cold feet about turning off the funding taps any time soon.

Hamish Telford, a political scientist at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, says the New Democrats appear to be moving slowly on political fundraising reform.

"They seem to be kicking the can down the road," Telford said. "It is no longer, apparently, going to be the first piece of legislation."

Banning parties from accepting limitless donations from businesses and unions will handcuff the NDP, given their reliance on funding from labour groups, he explained.

B.C.'s reputation as North America's Wild West of political fundraising peaked in the lead up to the province's spring election, prompting the New Democrats and Greens to promise a clamp down.

The Liberals softened their longtime opposition to fundraising reform after the election failed to give any party a majority of seats in the legislature and paved the way for an NDP minority government.

Attorney General David Eby has been tasked with putting together the legislation to ban corporate and union donations, cap individual contributions and require that loans to political parties come from recognized financial institutions.

Eby said he expects to table legislation early in the new session but would not say what the individual limits will be or when the law will come into effect.

"My goal is for the bill to become law as quickly as possible so British Columbians can have confidence in our political system," he said in an interview, adding that this will be his first bill as attorney general.

The New Democrats should act swiftly to change the system, lest they be tempted to adopt the same "pay-for-play" rules with no limits on donations that the Liberals so effectively exploited over 16 years, said Max Cameron, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia.

"It is actually in their own best interest to tie their own hands and introduce legislation," he added. "Trying to drag this out is only going to make it more difficult in the future and will be a major betrayal."

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