Green leader to P.E.I. premier: what changed?

The P.E.I. Green Party is accusing Premier Wade MacLauchlan of flip-flopping on a commitment to reform rules over political donations.

P.E.I. won’t jump on election finance reform 'bandwagon,' says premier

Businesses on P.E.I. are among the few in the country now free to hand over a cheque to a political party. (Shutterstock)

On May 11, 2016, P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan stood up in the provincial legislature and announced the province would bring in election finance reforms modelled after federal rules.

Donations from corporations and unions would be banned, personal donations to political parties would be capped at $1,500 per year, with an additional $1,500 per year allowed in donations to local candidates.

Another step in our ... democratically engaged province.- Wade MacLauchlan

"I do believe that the federal law passed in 2003 is our most important guidepost," MacLauchlan told MLAs.

"In brief, that law requires stronger financial disclosure, limits upon political contributions and tighter controls over the source of those contributions."

The premier spoke of a "fully consultative process" leading to a new election finance law, which he said would be "another step in our continuing evolution as a politically vigorous and democratically engaged province."

P.E.I. Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker is asking the province's premier why he's now referring to the political finance reforms he himself vowed to bring in two years ago as a 'bandwagon' the province isn't about to get on. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

Nearly two years later, with no changes made and the premier having backtracked from his commitment to eliminate corporate and union donations, the Green Party introduced a motion asking government to honour the premier's previous commitment.

"Seven out of 10 provinces and the House of Commons limit political donations strictly to individuals and place limits on those annual donations. It is only P.E.I., Newfoundland, and Saskatchewan that are lagging behind," said Green MLA Hannah Bell in support of the motion.

"There is no legitimate reason why we shouldn't do the same as the other provinces. There are good reasons why these other jurisdictions have taken the money out of politics. Money buys influence. Governments have always defended the interests of those that fund them best."

A changed attitude

In his response to the motion, MacLauchlan showed his view on the matter had indeed changed since 2016.

"This is not one of those questions that is a simple linear development or that is a simple process of it coming Prince Edward Island's turn to hop on the bandwagon that's going by," MacLauchlan responded.

P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan speaks to a motion from the Green Party, asking his government to honour the commitment the premier made two years ago to ban corporate and union political donations. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

The premier referred to P.E.I.'s rich political history. "There will continue to be political contributions in this province and we should welcome that and we should invite Islanders to do this and feel good and be generous in that."

The next week during question period, Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker wanted to know what changed.

"What happened in the past two years to make you go from a glowing appraisal of these changes, to characterizing them as a bandwagon on which to be jumped?" said Bevan-Baker.

Repeated questioning

"Mr. Speaker, it was clear in the spring of 2016, when I spoke on this matter and introduced a minister's statement," the premier responded.

"It was further clear when I wrote to the leaders of the official Opposition and the third party at the end of that year that this is on our minds. It seems to me that the only time we hear from the leader of the third party on this is in question period, which is something that's open for discussion, and we welcome that."

Less than two weeks into the sitting, the Greens have raised the issue of election financing in question period on three separate occasions, and twice brought up their motion for debate.

On Tuesday Bevan-Baker told the house his party had started a petition on the issue the night before, which had already garnered 200 signatures.

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Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.