MLA says N.W.T. should consider ban on corporate election donations
Returning MLAs saw the majority of their campaign financing come from corporations, businesses
Some N.W.T. MLAs who regained their seats during the 2015 election received all or the majority of their campaign contributions from businesses and corporations — which has one MLA wondering whether the territory should join Alberta, other provinces and the federal government in banning corporate election donations.
"I think it's a conversation that Northerners need to have," says Kieron Testart, the MLA for Yellowknife's Kam Lake constituency.
"Money is important in politics. It's how you get your signs, it's how you pay for advertising. For many people who [don't benefit from] those kinds of...corporate donations, it's a lot harder to get ahead."
Premier Bob McLeod, a former minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment who reclaimed the portfolio after the 2015 election, received $18,350 in contributions.
More than half of that money came from a list of businesses and corporations that includes McLennan Ross, Corothers Home Hardware, Norseman Property Holdings, Northwest Investments, Frame Lake Dental and Buffalo Airways, as well as several numbered companies.
Also notable among the donations to McLeod is a $1,500 contribution from Northern Gateway Consulting.
The company, which was incorporated only two months before the election, appointed Dave Ramsay — the former MLA for Kam Lake and McLeod's predecessor as minister of ITI — as a director about three weeks ago.
Bob Gannicott, the former chairman and CEO of Dominion Diamond Corporation — which is waiting on a key approval from the territorial government for an expansion of the Ekati diamond mine — personally donated $1,500 to McLeod's campaign.
McLeod's opponents in the election, Nigit'Stil Norbert and Samuel Roland, raised $3,642 and $0, respectively.
The premier wasn't the only candidate to benefit from business contributions, however.
Robert C. McLeod, the MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes and a cabinet minister, received only two campaign contributions — one of them was from Northwind Industries, one of two major contractors tapped by the government to build the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway.
Jimmy Kalinek, McLeod's only opponent, received no campaign contributions.
In the Mackenzie Delta, incumbent Frederick Blake Jr.'s three contributions (totalling $2,600) came from L.J.'s Septic Services, Red River Inc. and K&D Construction, while his three opponents mustered zero financial support from anybody.
Tom Beaulieu, the MLA for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, received $8,624.99 — over 60 per cent of his contributions — from businesses and corporations including Frame Lake Family Dental, Metcor, Yellowknife Ford Sales Ltd., Norn Fuel and Taidene Corporation.
Northland Utilities gave $9K to 6 candidates
Northland Utilities — the privately-owned power distributor that was competing during the election against the territorial government-owned Northwest Territories Power Corporation for the contract to provide electricity to Hay River — gave money to six candidates during the 2015 election.
Each candidate — Gregory Niyuli, Jan Fullerton, Jane Groenewegen, Dave Ramsay, Tom Beaulieu and Cory Vanthuyne — received $1,500 (the maximum allowed) from the company.
Vanthuyne, who was elected as MLA of Yellowknife North, gave his Northland cheque back, however.
"Afterwards, when I got elected, I had a little bit more time to think about it," he said.
"Given the nature of the issues that are surrounding the territorial government relative to power, and the power corporation being the owner of assets and bidding against Northland Utilities, I just felt that it would be more becoming of me to return that money, knowing that people are going to want me to be looking at both sides of the fence in an open-minded perspective."
While it was ultimately the Town of Hay River that decided which company got the contract, fiery debate over whether the territorial government was unfairly competing against private businesses broke out in the legislative assembly in the months before the election.
"I just didn't want even the perception to be there that I was taking any particular side on that issue," said Vanthuyne.
Still, Vanthuyne resisted Testart's notion of potentially banning such donations altogether.
"The more it becomes politicized, with more policy legislation around what [candidates] can and cannot do, that becomes a detractor [to running]."
Hey, big spender
While coming $1,000 short of Northland Utilities' election splurge, Yellowknife's Adam Dental Clinic was the territory's most prolific corporate donor during the 2015 election season.
The clinic gave $500 to 10 candidates in the N.W.T. election. Its owner, Dr. Hassan Adam, also personally donated $1,000 to the 2015 federal election candidates from each major political party: Floyd Roland (Conservatives), Dennis Bevington (NDP) and Michael McLeod (Liberals).
"The majority of the people who run for these offices I've known for a long, long time," said Dr. Adam. "Some of them I've even known them since they were little kids."
He says he normally only gives to people who call asking him for help.
"There is a tax deduction for it, with some of the amount, but I don't do it primarily for that. I do it to help these guys. I know they would all perform really well."
For some candidates, however, no amount of support from the business community can ensure victory.
Ramsay, who lost the Kam Lake seat to Testart, received donations totalling $23,900. Two thirds of that money, $16,100, came from businesses, including R&B Investments, Canzeal Enterprises, Arctic Green Energy, John Todd Holdings Ltd., Aurora Village, Wallbridge Law Office and Nuna Logistics.
Northern Gateway Consulting — the company that has since tapped Ramsay as a director — contributed $1,500 to his campaign.
- A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Robert C. McLeod is the minister of transportation.May 06, 2016 8:42 AM CT