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Opinion  

Follow the money trail

By Dermod Travis

Last week, the Globe and Mail reported that lobbyists in B.C. have been making political donations on behalf of their clients, effectively camouflaging the identity of the real donors and breaking B.C.'s Elections Act.

Elections B.C. then announced it was conducting an investigation, and five days later, the entire matter was referred to the RCMP.

To think it was only in January that Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson was boasting to CKNW's Jon McComb that British Columbia has the “most transparent disclosure system in the world.” 

B.C. doesn't even have the most transparent system in Canada. Five Canadian provinces have lower reporting thresholds than the $250 set by B.C.

And even then it's predicated on the donor being up front with the party and the party with Elections B.C.

The B.C. Liberal party tried to wave-off the Globe's report by calling the whole thing a "misunderstanding of the rules around political contributions.”

Lobbyists aren't the first group that comes to mind when you're thinking of individuals who might grapple with the intricacies of election legislation. Some of those caught up in the Globe's investigation may include a former solicitor general, a former deputy minister, a former assistant deputy minister and immediate family members to two prominent political families.

One of the lobbyists featured in the Globe's report is Woodfibre LNG's vice-president of corporate affairs, Byng Giraud.

In 2015, Giraud is quoted as saying the company “supports both political parties (financially).” Mighty fine people.

Search Elections B.C.'s database of party donors, and Woodfibre LNG has donated $30,500 to the Liberals and $15,500 to the NDP (2005 to 2015). 

Check the five other names Woodfibre uses – including Giraud's – and the spread between the two parties grows from $15,000 to $72,109. Nothing to sneeze at.

It's tough to imagine this has been going on for so long and no one in officialdom noticed.

Financial agents, 11 years of tax receipts, 11 years of audits, 11 years of training, 11 years of Elections B.C.'s all-party election advisory committee meetings, a fine upstanding lobbyist calling in to explain that the donation wasn't from him, but his client. Nothing.

According to minutes from Elections B.C.'s election advisory committee in November 2008 – when online donations by credit card were first permitted under the Elections Act – the Liberal party was represented at the meeting by Vancouver lawyer Hector MacKay-Dunn and then-party executive director Kelly Reichert. 

Deputy chief electoral officer Nola Western – then-electoral finance and corporate administration director – updated the assembled on changes to the Elections Act in regard to political financing, noting that: “Political contributions over $100 are allowed to be made via the internet ... as long as the political contribution is made with a credit card in the name of the contributor.”

Not a word about their lobbyist's credit card being used as a substitute.

It's not like the Liberal party has thousands of donors to keep track of either. It only took 285 donors for the party to raise $52.3 million between 2005 and 2015. Many of those who will have some 'splaining to do' with Elections B.C. are among the 285. So why do it at all?

One other shock? The sense from some lobbyists that they didn't think they were doing anything wrong by allegedly making donations in their name instead of their clients.

With the RCMP now involved, they may be in for a rude-awakening.

– Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.

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