Has the time come for B.C. premiers to disclose their tax returns?

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      This week, Premier Christy Clark revealed that she won't keep collecting a $50,000 annual stipend from the B.C. Liberal party.

      The B.C. Liberals paid this in addition to her $195,468 annual salary as premier and MLA for Westside-Kelowna.

      The news has been welcomed by Vancouver-Point Grey NDP MLA David Eby, who filed two complaints to the conflict of interest commissioner about Clark's second income.

      Conflict Commissioner Paul Fraser dismissed allegations by Eby and Ottawa-based Democracy Watch that the premier broke the law by collecting money raised through political donations. These rulings are now the subject of a judicial-review application filed by Ottawa-based Democracy Watch.

      Over Twitter, Eby also called for a ban on politicians collecting second salaries from political donations.

      Many British Columbians had no idea that Clark was collecting a second income until Eby and Democracy Watch shone a light on this.

      It raises questions about whether the Financial Disclosure Act needs to be amended.

      Keep in mind that premiers wield enormous power in Canada, which is one of the most decentralized federations in the world.

      In other countries, national governments are often responsible for health care, education, labour relations, and oversight of natural resources, such as timber, minerals, and oil and gas.

      Here in Canada, these areas are usually under the control of the provinces except under special circumstances, such as when a pipeline crosses a provincial or national boundary or when services are being delivered on First Nations reserves.

      The Canadian government is a signatory to various international treaties, including those addressing human rights. But it's usually up to premiers and their governments to ensure that these obligations are met.

      Premiers also have sole authority to appoint and fire cabinet ministers.

      In B.C., Clark is only truly answerable to the voters on Election Day or to the conflict commissioner (whose son she appointed as a deputy minister). She can also be recalled by registered voters in her own constituency, but the threshold is extremely high for this to occur.

      She can even fire elected school boards, mayors, and councillors if she cooks up a good reason. That's because these bodies have no constitutional powers and are creations of provincial governments.

      Given the power of a premier under Canada's parliamentary system, it makes sense that he or she should face even tougher financial-disclosure rules than fellow MLAs.

      Why not require the premier to release his or her tax return each year? This would ensure there are no other surprises like the $50,000 moonlighting income Clark was collecting from her party.

      Why not pass a law forcing whomever is premier to make their tax records public? This way, voters will know if he or she is beholden to anyone in ways that might not show up in a financial-disclosure form.

      The B.C. NDP or Green MLA Andrew Weaver could introduce a private member's bill in the next session of the legislature to bring this about.

      Last October, the New York Times published Donald Trump's 1995 tax return, which revealed he was more than $900 million in debt at the time. It created a political uproar.

      In light of all the controversy that arose around Trump's unpaid taxes, the B.C. Liberals probably won't want to block a private member's bill concerning the premier's tax return, particularly in an election year. That is, unless they have something to hide.

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