Companies still made largest political donations, ahead of ban

Companies that do significant business with the provincial government once again donated the most money to New Brunswick political parties during the first half of 2017 — one of the reasons the practice is no longer legal.

Corporate and union donations now banned, but parties pocketed $700K before June 1 deadline outlawed funds

TD Bank was the most lucrative political donor in New Brunswick this year, giving the maximum $6,000 allowed per party to both the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Companies that do significant business with the provincial government once again donated the most money to New Brunswick political parties during the first half of 2017 — one of the reasons the practice is no longer legal.

On June 1, the province officially banned donations to political parties from corporations and unions to eliminate their perceived "influence" over political decisions.

But in a race against the clock, party fundraisers still managed to take in more than $700,000 from the two groups — mostly businesses — before the restriction took effect.

In a rare all-party agreement last spring, MLAs decided the public would be better served if companies and unions with an interest in affecting provincial government decisions be banned from funding political parties in charge of those decisions. Now only individuals can donate.

And as if to make the point of why the change was made, each of the top donors to New Brunswick political parties this year fits the profile of what MLAs said they were concerned about.  All are businesses with a significant financial interest in how the province is governed.

Each of them also got their donations in before the June 1 deadline made them illegal.

In New Brunswick, the maximum legal political donation is $6,000 per contributor, per party, per year. The top 10 in 2017 in order:

1. TD Bank — $12,000 (Liberal: $6,000, PC: $6,000)

The Toronto Dominion bank gave the most money of any political donor this year writing $6,000 cheques to both New Brunswick Liberals and Progressive Conservatives. The multibillion-dollar bank, insurer and financial services company has been a big job creator in the province, but hasn't been shy about accepting government handouts along the way.  In May, it proposed to create 575 customer service jobs in Moncton in 2019 with the help of up to $9 million from the province.

TD says it donates nearly $200,000 a year to provincial political parties in Canada, both government and opposition. 

"Our contributions have no political bias, are all on public record and can be accessed at the websites of provincial election offices," says a corporate responsibility statement emailed to CBC News.

2. Acott Construction — $11,000 (Liberal: $6,000, PC: $5,000)

Carleton County paving company Acott Construction does a lot of business with the province, but president Gordon Acott says that's not why he donates to both major parties.

"Anybody who's got enough ambition to get out and ask, I usually give them something," said Acott. "We donate to more than political parties." According to the public accounts, Acott did $5.6 million worth of roadwork for the province in 2015, the latest year for which figures are available.

3. J.D. Irving Ltd. — $10,244.20 (Liberal: $5,300.20, PC: $4,944)

J D Irving Ltd., which is affected by many government decisions, has donated to political parties for many years. (Canadian Press)

J.D. Irving Ltd. is New Brunswick's largest forestry company and one of its most important employers. It's affected financially by a myriad of provincial government policies and decisions and has long been an important donor to multiple political parties. From the pricing of electricity, to the use of Crown forest land, the tax treatment of private timberland, rules around natural gas charges and other issues, there is not a lot the provincial government decides that does not affect J.D. Irving.

4. Emera Inc. — $9,500.20 (Liberal: $5,300.20,  PC: $4,200)

Nova Scotia energy company Emera has important infrastructure in New Brunswick, including a natural gas power plant and pipeline. It also has big hopes to partner with NB Power to sell renewable energy into the United States that would require the construction of hundreds of windmill generators in the province.

5. Insurance Bureau of Canada — $8,660.20 (Liberal: $5,300.20, PC: $3,360)

The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) is an industry association representing home and auto insurance companies operating in New Brunswick. The group was instrumental in convincing the province to restrict benefits to car accident victims back in the early 2000s which led to unprecedented company profits in the province for more than a decade.   

6. Moosehead Breweries — $8,250.05 (Liberal: $2,084.70, PC: $4,200)

Moosehead Breweries has market advantages over out-of-province beer producers. (Google Street View)

Moosehead Breweries has been favoured with millions of dollars in provincial government assistance over the years for expansions and upgrades, but company fortunes are most affected by restrictive rules that govern the sale of beer in the province and give market advantages to the company. Last year, an NB Liquor document surfaced claiming Moosehead had 22 distinct advantages in how it is treated in the province that had cost the liquor corporation $7.1 million in lost revenue.

7. Bell Canada — $8,094.60 (Liberal: $4,734.80, PC: $3,360)

The New Brunswick government is a major customer of Bell, paying the company more than $30 million per year for various services. But the company is also not shy about seeking handouts. In October, the province announced $3.6 million in grants for Bell in exchange for the creation of 150 service jobs in Fredericton.

8. Shoppers Drug Mart — $7,529.40 (Liberal: $4169.40, PC: $3,360)

Shoppers Drug Mart operates 38 stores in New Brunswick and has an interest in provincial government policy decisions on everything from commercial property tax rates to the minimum wage.The company is owned by Loblaw and has also been active in the debate around marijuana legalization with an interest in gaining federal approval to dispense medical marijuana at its pharmacies across the country.

9. St Isidore Asphalt — $6,500 (Liberal: $5,000, PC: $1,500)

Many paving companies in New Brunswick have a long history of making political donations. (CBC)

St. Isidore Asphalt is one of the largest road builders in northeastern New Brunswick. In 2015, it billed the province $22.8 million on various jobs and like many paving companies has been a major long-term contributor to both main parties for several years.

10. Rogers Communications — $6,470.56 (Liberal: $3,672, PC: $$2,798.56)

Although the New Brunswick government does most of its telecommunications business with Bell, Rogers does have its foot in the door. The company sold $2.8 million worth of services to the province in 2015 (the latest year figures are available) and is almost certainly looking for opportunities to increase that amount.

Other notable donations:

  • Although painting Opposition Leader Blaine Higgs as a friend of big business and the rich, Liberals raised more than $530,000 from corporate donors this year. That's  nearly four times more than Progressive Conservatives. Irving Oil's donation to the Liberal Party ($4,169.40) was five times more than it gave to the PCs ($840) even though Liberals have spent much of 2017 trying to paint Higgs as the Irving Oil-friendly politician because of his long career with the company.
  • Unions also made their final donations to New Brunswick political parties in 2017, but at $28,700, it was a fraction of the money contributed by business. The NDP received 62 per cent of that money, including two maximum $6,000 amounts from the United Steel Workers and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

About the Author

Robert Jones

Reporter

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.