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B.C. MLAs ponder 2022 ‘sunset’ of subsidy for political parties

NDP, B.C. Fed call for increase, B.C. Liberals have no comment
In the first election with public money replacing corporate or union donations, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan take part in election debate at the University of B.C., Oct. 13, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

An all-party committee of B.C. MLAs has given itself until Sept. 1 to decide if its $1.75-per-vote taxpayer subsidy for established political parties should end as scheduled next year, or be extended and increased.

Premier John Horgan introduced the per-vote subsidy at $2.50 per vote after the 2017 B.C. election, reversing a campaign promise that getting “big money” from business and unions out of politics would not lead to a subsidy. It has since declined to $1.75 per vote, with reimbursement of half of each parties’ election expenses on top of that.

The 2022 “sunset” clause was put in place to expire after the next scheduled election. After the snap election of October 2020, the B.C. NDP collected more than $2 million in election expense reimbursements, while the B.C. Liberals collected more than $1.5 million and the B.C. Greens got back more than $300,000. Combined with the annual per-vote subsidy, the program pays out as much as $30 million over four years to parties in what Horgan referred to as “a transition fund that will be gone by the end of this mandate.”

The MLA committee began with a series of submissions from the B.C. NDP, lobbying their own majority government, and the B.C. Federation of Labour. NDP representatives said the subsidy should be continued and go back up to $2 per vote, indexed to inflation. The union group said it should be raised back to the $2.50 mark, to add to voluntary personal donations up to $1,200 per year, for which individuals receive tax credits of up to 75 per cent.

The only other party represented in the public hearing was the Libertarian Party of B.C., which called for all subsidies to be ended. The B.C. Taxpayers Federation brought its campaign to end the subsidy, noting that a similar federal program was wound up in 2011, with parties fundraising on their own through the last three general elections.

“A $100 donation to Ronald McDonald House gets a tax credit of just over $20, whereas a $100 donation to a political party gets a tax credit of $75,” Kris Sims, the federation’s B.C. director, told the committee. “Isn’t a tax credit that’s three or four times more lucrative and generous than a charity that helps sick children’s families enough for the political parties of B.C.?”

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Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb, a B.C. Liberal MLA from 2001 to 2005, argued that the subsidy and donation limits should both be ended.

“It requires a lot of paperwork and people will find a way around it, so let those donate who want to, company, union or personal, and keep governments and Elections B.C.’s nose out of it,” Cobb wrote in one of 71 written public submissions.

Former Maple Ridge councillor Craig Speirs, a long-time B.C. NDP member, said the per-vote subsidy is “appropriate and should continue,” with further election reform at the local level.

“I would like to see changes to municipal election funding to end the ability of developers to contribute to people running for council when the developers have an application before council or intend to have one within the subsequent election cycle,” Speirs wrote.

Before the change, the B.C. Liberals were dominant in corporate fundraising, often doubling the NDP’s union-focused donor base. With voluntary donations from B.C. residents only, the NDP have outperformed the B.C. Liberals, raising nearly $2 million in the pre-election period July 1 to Sept. 30, 2020. That’s $800,000 more than the B.C. Liberals attracted as an opposition party with more MLAs than the governing NDP. The B.C. Greens raised $327,000 in the same period.


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