Dermod Travis: How did B.C.'s lobbyist-donation scandal escape public notice for so many years?
Last weekend the Globe and Mail reported that lobbyists in the province have been making political donations on behalf of their clients, effectively camouflaging the identity of the real donors, and possibly breaking B.C.'s Election Act in the process.
On March 5, Elections B.C. announced it was conducting an investigation into the Globe's findings. Five days later, the entire matter was referred to the RCMP.
To think it was only in January that Advanced Education minister Andrew Wilkinson was boasting to CKNW's Jon McComb that British Columbia has the “most transparent disclosure system in the world”.
B.C. doesn't even have the most transparent system in Canada. Five Canadian provinces have lower reporting thresholds than the $250 set by B.C.
And even then it's predicated on the donor being up-front with the party and the party with Elections B.C.
The B.C. Liberal party tried to wave off the Globe's report by calling the whole thing a "misunderstanding of the rules around political contributions".
Lobbyists aren't the first group that comes to mind when you're thinking of individuals who might grapple with the intricacies of election legislation.
Some of those caught up in the newspaper's investigation may include a former solicitor general, a former deputy minister, a former assistant deputy minister, and immediate family members to two prominent political families in the province.
One of the lobbyists featured in the Globe's report is Woodfibre LNG's vice president of corporate affairs, Byng Giraud.
In 2015, Giraud was quoted as saying the company "supports both political parties (financially)". Mighty fine people.
Search Elections B.C.'s database of party donors and you can see that Woodfibre LNG donated $30,500 to the B.C. Liberals and $15,500 to the NDP from 2005 to 2015.
Check the five other names Woodfibre uses—including Giraud's—and the spread between the two parties grows from $15,000 to $72,109. Nothing to sneeze at.
It's tough to imagine this has been going on for so long and no one in officialdom noticed.
Financial agents, 11 years of tax receipts, 11 years of audits, 11 years of training, 11 years of Elections B.C.'s all-party election advisory committee meetings, and a fine upstanding lobbyist calling in to explain that the donation wasn't from him, but his client. Nothing.
According to the minutes from Elections B.C.'s election advisory committee in November 2008—when online donations by credit card were first permitted under the Election Act—the B.C. Liberal party was represented at the meeting by Vancouver lawyer Hector MacKay-Dunn and then party executive director Kelly Reichert.
Deputy chief electoral officer Nola Western—then the electoral finance and corporate administration director—updated the assembled on changes to the Elections Act in regards to political financing, noting that: “Political contributions over $100 are allowed to be made via the internet...as long as the political contribution is made with a credit card in the name of the contributor.”
Not a word about their lobbyist's credit card being used as a substitute.
It's not like the B.C. Liberal party has thousands of donors to keep track of either.
It only took 285 donors for the party to raise $52.3 million between 2005 and 2015.
Many of those who will have some 'splaining to do with Elections B.C. are among the 285.
So why do it at all?
It could be seen as unsavoury for a donor or a political party to be seen having a financial relationship with each other.
The B.C. Liberals swore off donations from casinos for years, but not from their executives, pulling in more than $400,000 in personal donations from 2005 to 2014.
Lost in the hullabaloo over lobbyists cleansing donations was something else in the Globe's report: the possibility that some party donors seem to believe they have incredible sway over B.C. government decisions.
The Globe quoted former solicitor general Kash Heed saying that representatives of the New Car Dealers Association met with him and "demanded he fire the chair of the Motor Vehicle Sales Authority", a consumer protection agency.
The association—which has donated more than $1.3 million dollars to the B.C. Liberals—confirms it had meetings with Heed, but draws issue with the topics discussed.
Now, every significant firing in government risks being seen in that light.
One other shock? The sense from some of the lobbyists that they didn't think they were doing anything wrong by allegedly making donations in their name instead of their clients.
With the RCMP now involved they may be in for a rude awakening.