British Columbia

Premiers' exclusive fundraisers violate conflict of interest rules, says Democracy Watch

Provincial ethics commissioners need to clamp down on political fundraising events that give wealthy donors exclusive access to premiers, according to a democracy watchdog.

Charging $10K for exclusive access to premiers violates Canada's conflict of interest laws, says group

Questions have been raised about the propriety of B.C. Liberal Party fundraisers, which provide donors with exclusive access to B.C. Premier Christy Clark for a $10,000 donation. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Provincial ethics commissioners need to clamp down on political fundraising events that give wealthy donors exclusive access to premiers and cabinet ministers, according to a democracy watchdog.

Earlier this week, the Globe and Mail revealed that 10 people paid $10,000 each to attend a dinner with B.C. Premier Christy Clark at a recent B.C. Liberal fundraiser at the home of Simon Fraser University chancellor Anne Giardini.

The Toronto Star also revealed that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was charging up donors up to $18,000 to attend a private cocktail reception.

That's raised concerns with Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher, who says the practice is not allowed under existing conflict-of-interest rules.

"Big donations made at private fundraising events where the politician is essentially selling access to themselves are a clear violation of conflict-of-interest laws that prohibit politicians across Canada from accepting gifts connected with their positions,"said Conacher.

"The federal, provincial and territorial conflict-of-interest laws all have the same provision that says politicians cannot accept any gift or benefit 'directly or indirectly' connected to their position or 'that might reasonably be seen to be given to influence' them," said Conacher.

That's why he is calling on provincial ethics commissioners across Canada to ban the practice.

Fundraising in politics

8 years ago
Duration 7:38
Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, discusses the rules around political fundraising.

Only Quebec has effectively stopped these events with its ban on corporate and union donations and its $100 annual individual donation limit, according to the group. 

"At the federal level, and in every province and territories, politicians, the lack of donation limits or high limits allows politicians to sell access to themselves at exclusive events," said Conacher.

"If ethics commissioners across Canada don't issue rulings that these unethical fundraising events are illegal, they will not only be negligently ignoring the law, they will also be approving corrupting relationships between donors and politicians."

Some changes proposed in B.C.

In response to the concerns, Premier Clark says she is going to ask the chief electoral officer to allow for real-time updates on who is donating to political parties, rather than annual updates.

"That is something we have never done before in B.C. It would help make the process more transparent and I think it would do a lot to add to the sense of confidence political parties are doing enough," Clark said in Williams Lake on Thursday.

When asked for further comment, the B.C. Liberal Party issued a short statement saying "B.C. has clear rules around political donations, and we follow them — disclosing all contributions to Elections BC for the public to see."

"With respect to the Premier Christy Clark's announcement yesterday, we support the premier's call to move to real-time disclosure," said the statement from Jillian Stead.

But the B.C. NDP says that doesn't go far enough, in part because the party says it won't stop the wealthy from getting special access to the premier.

Instead, NDP Leader John Horgan is proposing his own changes that would limit union and corporate donations.

"I'm going to the Legislature next week to table a piece of legislation that would make her request irrelevant. If she was genuine, she could support our bill," Horgan said Thursday.