BC’s Electoral Finance Law Falls Short

People’s Voice Editorial

The news from B.C.’s provincial capital has been a mixed bag since Christy Clark’s Liberals were finally ejected from office in July by an NDP government backed by three Green MLAs. One issue that deserves immediate attention is the Horgan government’s initial steps on reform of electoral financing. The sight of the former premier at endless rounds of “cash for access” events with powerful corporate interests cost the Liberals their majority, and the NDP and Greens pledged to take big money out of electoral financing. Unfortunately, that includes donations from trade unions, which unlike corporations, are democratically controlled organizations representing working people. Still, big capital has vastly outspent the labour movement, so on balance, this change is likely for the better.

But there are other flies in the ointment, such as the failure to tackle uncontrolled political contributions at the municipal level. This has led to some of the most expensive civic elections in North America, and the domination of housing policy by big developers and capitalists at the local level.

Another sore point is the introduction of taxpayer financing of some political parties. This system is widespread among OECD countries, but as in most other cases, it will be applied unfairly. Only parties which receive a minimum of 2% of the vote total will be eligible for per-vote funding, leaving out smaller registered parties (such as the Communist Party of BC) which face the same onerous bookkeeping and reporting requirements as the big parties.

Nor does the new legislation reduce overall campaign spending limits. As long as the major parties can spend tens of millions of dollars to get elected, campaigns will remain primarily an exercise in advertising, rather than in democratic debate and discussions.

In short, the Horgan government could have, and should have, done much better on this file.

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