British Columbia·Interactive

Political Donations: Following the money in B.C. politics

The B.C. Liberals may have raised more than double what the NDP has since 2005, but the NDP scored four of the top five donors overall.

A look at each party's biggest donors: how much they gave and when

When it comes to election campaigns, money matters.

B.C. has been dubbed the "Wild West" of political fundraising because there are no limits on the amount of money deep-pocketed donors, such as companies and unions can contribute. It is one of only a few provinces in Canada that doesn't cap political donations.

CBC took 12 years of political contribution data and crunched it to make it easy to see the top donors, compare parties and observe trends over time.

Who raised the most money?

The Liberals raised $116 million between 2005 and 2016, which is more than double the NDP's $46.5 million. The Green Party, which banned corporate and union donations in September, raised $2.9 million and the B.C. Conservatives raised $1.3 million. 

The median donation — meaning half the donations were higher and half were lower — was highest for the Liberals, at $360, followed by the B.C. Conservatives at $200. For both the NDP and the Greens, the median donation was $30.

Who were the top donors to each party?

Even though the Liberals raised by far the most money overall, four of the top five donors over the 12-year period were unions who gave to the NDP. Only the Liberals' top donor, mining company Teck, cracked the top five.

The Liberal Party's top donors were mostly corporate: mining, energy, forestry and real estate firms, with the addition of the New Car Dealers Association of B.C. in the number two spot. 

For the NDP, it's big labour. Eight of its top 10 donors were unions and the other two were estates. The top donor to the NDP was the B.C. Government Employees' Union, followed by the United Steelworkers.

The Greens' biggest donors are all individuals, with former party and fundraising chair Roy Ball in the top spot.

How have donations changed over time?

Donations from corporations and unions tend to follow the election cycle, peaking in 2005, 2009 and 2013. 

Corporate money accounted for close to two-thirds — 62 per cent — of donations to the Liberals over the years, but the overall trend is slightly down from a high of $10 million in 2005. Donations from individuals, however, have grown steadily.

The NDP, meanwhile, received the majority of its donations — 54 per cent — from individuals, with unions accounting for about a third of the total. Donations from individuals to the NDP have, however, dropped over the years.

The only time the NDP received significant donations from corporations was in 2013, the year of the last provincial election, when they spiked to almost $2.4 million. 

The Green Party received almost all of its funding from individuals, reaching a peak of nearly $500,000 last year.

Both the NDP and the Green Party have pledged to ban corporate and union donations if elected. This would hurt the Liberals the most, as they received close to two-thirds of their funding from corporations.

Our analysis

CBC News analyzed 12 years of campaign contributions to B.C.'s four biggest political parties, which are publicly available from Elections BC. Where feasible, we combined corporate donations from parent companies with subsidiaries.

We also combined contributions from different locals of the same union and fixed punctuation, spacing or hyphenation discrepancies that result in donations from the same entity showing up as separate entries (Telus versus Telus Corp, for example).

What are the limitations of this analysis?

The Elections BC data only includes donations totaling more than $250 in a calendar year. This means someone who gave 10 separate donations of $30 over the course of a year, totaling $300, would be included, but someone who gave a single donation of $240 would not.

There is also the widely reported issue of individuals, including lobbyists, making donations in their names and then being reimbursed by companies, a practice that is now under investigation by the RCMP.

The Liberals recently returned some donations made using this practice. This means it is likely some donations classified as individual should more accurately be classified as corporate.

The CBC also did not look up each of the hundreds of numbered companies to check for subsidiaries or combine subsidiaries with parent companies with dissimilar names (Imperial Metals and Mount Polley Mining Corporation, for example). With close to 440,000 data points, this was not feasible.