British Columbia

B.C. NDP outpace Liberals in donations leading up to 2017 elections

For some, the latest data from Elections BC signals a need to push political finance reform forward in the province.

Attorney General David Eby says bill limiting corporate, union and individual donations coming this fall

B.C. currently allows unlimited political contributions, and parties can accept donations from anywhere in the world. (iStock)

The B.C. NDP outpaced the B.C. Liberals in campaign donations leading up to the 2017 election, according to new reports from Elections BC. For some, the data signals a need to push political finance reform forward. 

The Liberals have long brought in the most donations in B.C. politics, but the gap between the NDP and the Liberals began to narrow in the 2013 provincial election, when most pollsters suggested a win for the NDP. 

Although polls were generally more cautious about predicting an NDP government this time around, the donation trend favouring the NDP appears to have continued. 

The reports show that the NDP brought in a total of $9,442,746, and the Liberals $7,934,581. The B.C. Green Party, which refused to accept corporate and union donations during its campaign, brought in $869,308.

According to the Elections BC report, about 40 per cent of the NDP's donations came from unions during this most recent election, with individual donations a close second.

Almost 60 per cent of the donations for the Liberals came from corporations. 

The numbers have been released amid ongoing pressure to reform the province's political donation system — dubbed the "wild west" of political finance

Attorney General David Eby says putting forward a bill with "very strict limits" on political donations will be his first priority as soon as the legislature sits in early September. 

Dermod Travis, executive director of non-partisan group Integrity B.C., noted that some corporations, traditional Liberal supporters, appear to have switched their allegiance this year.

Notably, mining giant Teck and developer Aquilini Investments both donated to the NDP. The latter was the party's biggest corporate donor with a $100,000 donation in 2017.

"A lot of traditional donors to the B.C. Liberal party don't appear in the 2017 list, or if they appear it is a dramatically different size donation than before," Travis said. 

Aquilini wasn't the only developer to donate to the NDP. Travis thinks that some in the industry may have switched loyalty because of policy shifts last year, in particular a 15 per tax imposed on foreign homebuyers.

"I suspect they were not happy with the foreign tax and other measurements that the government had moved on under Christy Clark, and they took it out on the government through their bank account," Travis said. 

Christopher Cotton, a political economist at Queen's University whose work focuses on political finance reform, says it's not unusual for companies to support the party they think is best placed to win an election. 

Cotton acknowledges that many believe that donations are made to curry specific political favours, but he says there is little evidence to support that this is widespread.

No permanent fundraising advantage for NDP

Instead, Cotton says there is more evidence to support the notion that donations are made to gain access to the party donated to, in order to ensure a more favourable regulatory environment. 

"You might want to have your foot in the door no matter which party it is," he said. 

Despite the NDP's fundraising advantage this past election, Cotton thinks finance reform will still benefit the party in the long term. 

"I don't see anything in the data to suggest that the NDP now has a permanent fundraising advantage over the Liberals," he said. 

"The Liberals almost certainly continue to have more corporate support and are able to raise higher total donation over an entire election cycle than the NDP." 

'Impression of corruption'

Whatever the reason for the donations to the NDP or the Liberals, both Cotton and Travis agree reform is necessary in B.C.

"B.C. is really behind the trend across Canada, across Western democracies, in terms of eliminating corporate and union money from politics," Cotton said. 

"If nothing else this is creating … the impression of corruption."

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Until the reform bill is put forward and passes, the NDP continues to accept corporate, union and unlimited individual donations. Eby says that's because the Liberals are still amassing a "war chest" that could be used for years to come. 

Part of the new bill, he says, will apply retroactively to donations received after the election.

"We want to make sure that the last election was the last big money election in B.C. and we will do that," Eby said. 

The party is still deciding where to set limits for personal limits for donations. He says they currently range from $100 to about $3,000 across the country. 

See the complete results of the CBC's analysis and download the raw data here

With files from CBC data journalist Tara Carman