Election reform tap dance

By Dermod Travis

Last week, Premier Christy Clark heard the four letters that every politician dreads: RCMP.

Only five days after announcing its investigation into lobbyists who may have had personal donations to the BC Liberals and NDP reimbursed by unknown third-parties, Elections B.C. called in the cops.

The Sensitive Investigations Unit has been tasked with investigating the possible "cleansing" of political donations.

One gets a sense from their reaction that the Liberal party's initial damage control went out the window in favour of full-blown crisis management. 

Clark who has tried to ignore growing public anger over her fundraising practices – think $10,000 a plate cash-for-access dinners – may have finally blinked. 

She skipped question period two days in a row last week. Then, word began to leak the premier was preparing to go further than she had ever gone before on electoral finance reform.

The Diva of Deflection, as Independent MLA Vicki Huntington likes to call Clark, lived up to the billing on Monday.

Using the B.C. government's proposed real-time disclosure of political donations bill as a prop, Clark announced that if re-elected the Liberals will establish an independent panel to review B.C.'s Elections Act.

"What I'm proposing today is a process to take political parties and politicians out of the process," said Clark. "Regular review is important because there haven't been significant changes since 1995."

I guess that goes to how one defines “significant.”

Clark didn't see the need to establish a comparable panel when the government passed legislation to muzzle third-parties in what was once called the pre-campaign period – a move later overturned by the B.C. Court of Appeal – or when it amended the Elections Act so that all political parties would be given an electronic copy of everyone who votes.

Making her announcement, Clark was clear that members of the panel would have to be accepted by a unanimous vote of the legislature, which everyone knows is a regular occurrence in Victoria (mild sarcasm).

Clark added that any recommendations the panel might make four years later – or as the B.C. Liberal party prefers to say $60 million later – would have to be adopted unanimously as well. 

When pigs fly.

Meanwhile, in a remarkable display of decisiveness, B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan can be marked down as squarely undecided on real-time disclosure, telling CKNW: “Take it as a yes or no, however you like it. We disclose annually, as does the Conservative party, the Marijuana Party, Libertarian Party, and the Liberal Party.”

Clark's legislation came with a couple of unexpected and positive add-ons: the threshold for reporting political contributions will be lowered to $100 annually from $250. And we may get to find out who attends those elite cash-for-access dinners, albeit not retroactively.

Clark's office was quick to point out that she had misspoken on that retroactive thing. Call it the premier's foxtrot week: one step forward, two steps back, then sidestep the real issue. 

– Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.


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