Just four days before May's provincial election, Vancouver investment tycoon Peter Brown sent a blunt e-mail to his staff at Canaccord Capital Corp. He started by claiming that he wasn't trying to influence how employees voted. But any sense of evenhandedness was quickly erased by what followed: a hearty endorsement of Premier Gordon Campbell and a thorough denunciation of the NDP.
"Twice in 35 years we turned the reins of government in this province over to the NDP—first to Dave Barrett and Bob Williams in the 70's and to Harcourt and Clarke [sic] in the 90's and both times our economy was trashed, our morale was diminished, and we were ridiculed by the rest of Canada," Brown wrote. "We should never forgive them and certainly never forget."
Brown, a former Socred fundraiser, declared that following these "disastrous" NDP governments, the right man appeared to rebuild the province. First, he wrote, it was Bill Bennett; later, "Gord Campbell" came to the rescue. Brown also claimed that since the B.C. Liberals were elected in 2001, the province had gone from 10th to first place in economic growth and job creation.
"I would encourage all of you to volunteer some hours to help the Party in this election if you feel so inclined," he concluded. "It would be a very sad day in deed [sic] if we wake up on the morning of May 18th to Premier Carol [sic] James which can only happen if we don't all do our share."
Brown didn't mention in his lengthy e-mail that he gave $25,000 to the B.C. Liberal party earlier this year. He chose not to disclose that Canaccord contributed another $128,800.
In most cases, workers have no idea how much their bosses gave to the B.C. Liberal party. The average Keg waiter, for instance, might be surprised to learn that his employer forked over $58,500 to help reelect Campbell. Carpenters working on Bosa Development projects, scientists at QLT Inc., or maintenance workers at CN Rail might also be interested in knowing that their companies forked out between $50,000 and $102,990 to assist the B.C. Liberal campaign.
If they were told about these contributions in advance, the average employee might ask what their companies get in return for such whopping donations. Is it because the boss likes the premier so much? Or are there other motives?
In the case of Canaccord, Brown has already expressed public admiration for Campbell. Brown's memo also revealed his deep loathing of the NDP. Canaccord executives happen to have also personally benefited from B.C. Liberal government policies. Campbell's across-the-board personal-income-tax cuts put huge sums of money in the pockets of high-income earners. Middle- and lower-income people collected smaller refunds, with some or all of that offset by higher medical-service premiums and higher sales taxes.
Canaccord and other brokerage firms also benefited from the streamlining of securities regulations under the Campbell government. In addition, Canaccord is poised to generate more fees as a result of the new Business Corporations Act, which increases corporate secrecy and was designed to attract more international investment. Under the old Company Act, any citizen could examine shareholder registries. The B.C. Liberals decided it was in the public interest to seal this information under almost all circumstances.
The Business Corporations Act also eliminated residency rules concerning B.C.-registered company boards of directors. As a result, it's easier for foreign businesspeople to create companies in B.C., possibly underwritten by Canaccord, without competitors ever discovering who is behind them.
Other big contributors to the B.C. Liberals have also benefited from various government policies. The New Car Dealers Association of BC was the largest donor in 2005 (see list on this page). During Campbell's first term as premier, the government increased the threshold on a luxury-car surtax from $32,000 to $49,000, saving automobile buyers approximately $45 million per year. Campbell was also the first premier in Canada to allow car dealers to regulate their own ethical conduct and control licensing within their own industry.
If that wasn't enough, Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon continues promoting the addition of road capacity in the region, which will accommodate more new cars. One of Falcon's favourite proposals is to twin the Port Mann Bridge and expand Highway 1 to eight lanes between Langley and Vancouver.
Meanwhile, the second- and fifth-largest B.C. Liberal donors, Fording Inc. and Teck Cominco Ltd., have benefited from the Campbell government's support for the coal industry. In their first term, the B.C. Liberals ended requirements for coal companies to pay royalties for the use of gravel for road-building. In addition, the government has aggressively promoted coal-fired electricity in general, and refused to include greenhouse-gas emission targets in B.C.'s climate-change plan.
As one goes down the list of B.C. Liberal donors, it's possible to see how dozens of other corporations may have fattened their bottom lines as a result of Campbell government policies. QLT Inc. and other technology companies received a big boost from a new law exempting high-tech workers from some legislated employment standards. Under special rules developed by the B.C. Liberal government, workers who develop information technology or conduct scientific research—as well as those who sell and market these products—only collect overtime pay after working 12 hours in a day, rather than eight hours.
Executives at West Fraser Mills and International Forest Products-the fourth- and seventh- largest donors to the B.C. Liberals-each obtained a big break when the Campbell regime introduced a results-based Forest Practices Code during its first term. As a result, forest companies were no longer required to submit logging-site plans for government review and approval. The B.C. Liberals also made it easier to transfer forest licences without penalties. Moreover, the government cancelled a requirement that forest licensees create jobs in specific areas where they have cutting rights.
The eighth-largest B.C. Liberal donor, Calgary-based EnCana Corp., recently announced that it will resume its coalbed-methane project in southeastern B.C. A conservation group called Wildsight has claimed that the energy giant will release its wastewater into the Elk River watershed under B.C.'s new self-regulatory regime.
EnCana spokesperson Florence Murphy told the Georgia Straight that the water will be treated and therefore clean before it's released. Meanwhile, EnCana and other companies are extracting natural gas in northeastern B.C. at a rate that will jeopardize the province's energy supply within a decade, according to the David Suzuki Foundation.
Many of the Campbell government's corporate-friendly policies first surfaced in the Business Council of British Columbia's submission to a "Red Tape Reduction Task Force" in 2001. At the time, the business council presented a shopping list of requests, including an overhaul of the Waste Management Act (done), adding exemptions to employment standards (done), radically revising the Forest Practices Code (done), increasing thresholds before requiring environmental assessments (done), allowing coalbed-methane drilling (done), and changing park boundaries to facilitate industrial development (done).
Since the B.C. Liberals won the May 17 provincial election, the business council has highlighted two new issues it feels are worthy of government attention: replacement workers and air quality. The business lobby group, which represents the province's largest corporations, has distributed a position paper in favour of changing the law to allow companies to hire strikebreakers. If the government grants this demand, a big beneficiary would be one of the B.C. Liberal party's largest donors, Teck Cominco Ltd., where workers have been on strike for most of this summer.
The business council has also issued a paper questioning why the Greater Vancouver Regional District has authority over regulating air emissions in the Lower Mainland. The Straight has previously reported that the greenhouse industry has asked the provincial government to override GVRD restrictions on allowing its members to switch to dirtier fuels if their operations are on agricultural land.
In Quebec, when phony ad contracts went to agencies that kicked back money to the Liberal Party of Canada, there was massive media coverage in national newspapers, an auditor general's report, a huge public outcry on radio talk shows, and a federal inquiry. In B.C., when companies donate much larger amounts to the governing party and obtain financial benefits through legislative changes, major provincial media, for the most part, don't make a big issue of it.
The Straight recently obtained copies of the premier's calendar of daily appointments. It revealed a steady stream of corporate executives visiting Campbell's office in recent years for private meetings. The list includes Darren Entwistle of Telus, Michael Sabia of B.C.E., and David Thompson, formerly of Teck Cominco. In addition, some of Canada's largest publishers—Phillip Crawley of the Globe and Mail, CanWest CEO Leonard Asper, Vancouver Sun and Province publisher Dennis Skulsky, and David Black, owner of the WestEnder and many other community papers—dropped by for visits with the premier. Skulsky, in particular, appears to have a warm relationship with Campbell, meeting with him on several different occasions in the premier's office.
In an amazing coincidence, Skulsky is also on the board of the New Car Dealers Association of BC, which was the largest donor to the B.C. Liberals this year.
Sidebar: The B.C. Liberal $50,000 Club
During the four-and-a-half months leading up to the 2001 provincial election, eight B.C. Liberal party donors contributed $50,000 or more. The numbers increased sharply in the 2005 pre-election period, with 39 corporate and individual contributors handing over $50,000 or more. In 2005, seven forked out more than $100,000, compared with just two during the 2001 pre-election period.
This year's list, filed with Elections BC, doesn't combine donations from different companies within conglomerates. For example, Weyerhaeuser Company Ltd. gave $15,790, which isn't included with the $50,000 from Weyerhaeuser Canada Ltd. Personal and corporate donations linked to businesspeople—such as Greg Kerfoot, Ken Mahon, and Billy Vanderkerkhove—sometimes exceeded $50,000. However, they are not included on the following list because they weren't made in the name of a single corporation or individual.
None of the companies owned by B.C.'s richest businessman, Jim Pattison, contributed $50,000 to the B.C. Liberals in 2005. In the nonelection year of 2004, though, his companies donated $55,290 to Gordon Campbell's party.
New Car Dealers Association of BC $150,299
Fording Inc. $132,990
Canaccord Capital Corporation $128,890
West Fraser Mills $127,990
Teck Cominco Limited $112,210
QLT Inc. $102,990
International Forest Products $101,690
EnCana Corp. $77,990
Highland Valley Copper $77,000
Milan Ilich $75,000
Concord Pacific Group Inc. $70,990
Quintette Operating Corp. $70,000
Canadian Forest Products Ltd. $68,850
Haywood Securities Inc. $65,000
Canadian National Railway Company $61,630
Angiotech Pharmaceuticals Inc. $60,000
Teck Cominco Metals Ltd. $60,000
Amacon Construction Ltd. $59,750
Keg Restaurants $58,500
Sauder Industries $57,500
Great Canadian Railtour Company $57,170
Hayes Forest Service Ltd. $56,000
Omni Property Mgmt Services Ltd. $55,700
Raymond James Ltd. $55,490
Ainsworth Engineered Canada LP $55,090
Tolko Industries Ltd. $52,990
Wheaton River Minerals Ltd. $52,500
Pacific Customs Brokers Ltd. $51,600
MacDonald Development Corp. $51,300
B.I.D. Construction Ltd. $50,650
BPL Management Ltd. $50,500
Peter Redekop $50,500
Vancouver Island InsuranCentres $50,400
Bosa Development Corp. $50,000
CanWest Media Inc. $50,000
Mark Anthony Cellars Ltd. $50,000
Placer Dome Inc. $50,000
Pope & Talbot Inc. $50,000
Weyerhaeuser Canada Ltd. $50,000