Martyn Brown: Enter B.C.’s new “riled west” era of campaign financing

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      What is one to make of Bill 3, the Election Amendment Act? If you care to delve into that question, brace yourself, for this extensive critique is long.

      The B.C. Liberals would have you believe that the Horgan administration is only replacing B.C.’s “wild west” of party raising with a new publicly subsidized funding model that is actually worse than the thoroughly discredited system it will happily replace.

      Enter B.C.’s new “riled west” era of campaign financing.

      The Liberals are hoping to get you hopping mad at how the NDP and Greens plan to use your tax dollars to help all parties pay their bills. They want you to forget how they abused your tax dollars and B.C.’s “cash for access” system, to raise millions of dollars and buy votes at your expense.

      Before we all get too hot under the collar, let’s remember, the B.C. Liberals spent about $30 million from government’s kitty in the last two elections on their own self-promotional, partisan-political, pre-election advertising.

      Coincidentally, that’s the about same amount that Bill 3 would provide all parties in new money over the next five years, to help ease their collective transition to a new campaign finance regime that makes good on GreeNDP’s campaign commitment to ban big money from B.C. politics.

      It will get big private money out of the equation, in part, by pouring big public money into parties’ coffers. More about that later.

      Bill 3 is far from perfect, but it is a quantum leap better than the regime it stands to replace.

      As important as its public financing component surely is, what is far more significant is what Bill 3 will do to prevent those with deep pockets from effectively buying the politicians’ ears, attention, and action.

      It will go a long way toward cleaning up B.C.’s no-holds-barred party funding system. For far too long it has given wealthy individuals, rich corporations, and large unions way too much sway over politicians, public policy and government decisions.

      For the most part, the NDP’s new bill will take British Columbia from being a laggard to a true leader in Canada on party fundraising and public reporting.

      On balance, Bill 3 will make B.C.’s system much fairer and more affordable, accountable, transparent, and less prone to abuse.

      Among other things, the bill tabled by NDP Attorney General David Eby will achieve this:

      • Outlaw contributions from corporations and unions, including contributions “in kind”. 
      • Prohibit parties from using any funding they previously received that would be prohibited under the new act in future elections. (Though they will still be allowed to use it to fund their party operations and other needs, which makes that restriction all but a moot point.) 
      • Limit the amount that individuals can annually contribute to political parties or candidates to $1,200 in total—the second lowest cap in Canada, next to Quebec’s annual limit of $100. 

      By comparison, the federal cap is $3,100, including $1,550 for each party and $1,550 in combined donations to associations, candidates and nomination contestants. Provincial caps range from $3,000 in New Brunswick, and $3,600 in Ontario, to $4,000 in Alberta, and $5,000 in Manitoba Nova Scotia—all far above B.C.’s new limit. 

      Elections B.C. devotes a great deal of attention to encouraging British Columbians to exercise their franchise, but some feel the game has been rigged because of the influence of wealthy donors.

      Election spending will fall as disclosure improves

      Plus, for the first time ever, individual contributions to party leadership contestants will also be restricted to $1,200—a limit that won’t apply to the B.C. Liberals’ current leadership contest. 

      • Ban political contributions from anyone who is not a B.C. resident holding either Canadian citizenship or permanent resident status. In other words, no more cash “gifts” and anonymous contributions to parties and politicians from foreign individuals or from out-of-province donors. 
      • Bar party fundraisers in private residences if the ticket price is over $100, or if they are attended by a major party leader or minister.
      • Prohibit party loans to parties, candidates, leadership contestants, nomination contestants and third-party election advertisers from any entity other than bona fide savings institutions, or at less than prime rates. 
      • Enact new public disclosure requirements for any fundraising functions that will be attended by a leader of major political party, cabinet member or parliamentary secretary.

      All British Columbians will be told where and when those events will be held, which politicians in any of those categories attended them, the number of tickets sold and how much money they generated.

      • Reduce B.C.’s current election expense limits for parties and candidates by 25 percent.

      If that new limit had been in place last spring, it would have cut parties’ permitted election spending from about $4.88 million apiece to about $3.66 million. The amounts each candidate would have been allowed to spend would have dropped from $78,000 to $58,000, regardless of the size or location of their electoral district.

      • Prohibit third-party election advertisers from accepting money from unions or corporations, and also cap the amounts they can accept from any individual to $1,200 a year.
      • Require any third-party election sponsors receiving more than $10,000 in total contributions to have a dedicated bank account. 
      • Impose new rules for third-party advertisers during a 60-day, pre-campaign period in advance of any scheduled general election.

      There will no limits on how much those sponsors can spend during that period; but they will have to register with Elections B.C. and file a financing report if they engage in direct election advertising during that pre-writ period, wherein the party’s surrogates typically flood the airwaves with partisan election advertising.

      • Require third-party sponsors of any election advertising worth more than $10,000 during either the new pre-campaign period or the 28-day campaign to disclose their source of contributions within 14 days of receiving them. They will also have to their post-election disclosure reports audited, 
      • Provide for the ability of the chief electoral officer to impose tough, new monetary penalties of double the amounts contributed in violation of the rules by ineligible contributors or in excess of the permissible limits. 

      You think all of that is not a big deal? Give your head a shake. 

      It’s huge, and actually, far more important than Bill 3’s new public-financing components. 

      The author of this article, Martyn Brown, was once chief of staff to former B.C. Liberal premier Gordon Campbell.

      Public subsidies come in different forms

      That is not to diminish the significance of those changes. Yet we should not allow the legitimate debate about the bill’s new public political subsidies to overshadow the substantive improvements they are aimed at achieving. 

      Those sweeping reforms should have been a slam-dunk-win for the NDP-Green alliance that earned all 43 of its elected members nothing but kudos. 

      Sadly, that entirely predictable controversy now threatens to eclipse the broader purposes that Bill 3 so admirably advances, as it also threatens to make voters overlook the important election promises on campaign finance reform that the NDP and Green MLAs are honouring. 

      As you’ve probably heard, the new legislation will provide all eligible parties an annual declining “allowance”.

      They will each get $2.50 for each vote they received, starting next year, and .25 cents less each year, dropping to $1.75 per vote by 2022—a year after the next election.

      To qualify for that subsidy, parties must receive at least two percent of the provincial vote in an election, or at least five percent of the total votes cast in the ridings where they ran candidates. That criteria effectively rules out all of the parties except the NDP, Liberals, and Greens. 

      Whether or not that subsidy continues after 2022 will be subject to a review by a special committee of the legislature, the substance of which is, regrettably, not specified. Odds are, that review won’t be independent or arm’s length, but rather, comprised of sitting MLAs from all parties. 

      In addition, Bill 3 will entitle all registered parties, and all candidates receiving at least 10 percent of the votes in their riding, to be reimbursed by the taxpayers for 50 percent of their eligible election expenses. That applies to both general elections and byelections. 

      Parties and candidates will be entitled to claim public subsidies equal to fully half of their allowable election spending on advertising, rents, or market value for the use of property, research, staffing, and more. 

      And unlike the annual funding allowance, there is no sunset provision to end that benefit. Not good, to put it mildly. 

      How much will all this cost? 

      The parties’ annual allowance will cost taxpayers about $20 million over the next five years. The election expense reimbursement will cost another $11 million for each and every general election, and untold millions for eligible by-election expenses.

      Yet in my view, here’s the real kicker: on top of all that, Bill 3 leaves in place the current political contribution tax credit (P.C.T.C.)—a tax expenditure that indirectly subsidizes political parties to the tune of about $3 million to $4 million a year.

      That’s another $15 to $20 million in publicly funded tax expenditures that will continue over at least the next five years, bringing the total true tab for public political subsidies over that period to as much as $50 million, or maybe more, depending on the number of by-elections. 

      The P.C.T.C. provides all individual donors an income tax credit equal to 75 percent of contributions up to $100, plus 50 percent of any contributions between $100 and $550, plus 33.3 percent of any contributions in excess of $550, up to a maximum total credit of $500. 

      Donors get the primary benefit of those tax expenditures, regardless of their income; but the parties benefit as well, to the extent that it makes their fundraising appeals more compelling to contributors. 

      Either way, the taxpayers are still ultimately paying the lion’s share of those political donations that go directly into parties’ piggy banks. 

      In essence, we all pay $75 of every political contributor’s first $100 gift to a party or candidate, $225 of their next $450 in donations, and $200 of their next $600 in contributions. 

      Through those political contributions tax credits, taxpayers effectively pay $500—or 43.4 percent—of the first $1,150 that anyone donates to parties and candidates.

      As such, that tax credit subsidy maxes out at individual donations of $1,150 in aggregate—only $50 less than the new $1,200 threshold that Bill 3 establishes for political contributions.

      A coincidence? Not hardly.

      So, to sum up, under the new proposed campaign finance regime, there will be no more big bucks flowing to parties and candidates from corporations, unions, or wealthy individuals.

      But under the new regime, at least for the next five years, taxpayers will be obliged to pay at least 43.4 percent of the cost of all maximum allowable donations from individuals, through the P.C.T.C. Plus they will pay 50 percent of the cost of all parties’ and candidates’ eligible election expenses. Plus they will pay an annual allowance that might easily account for half or more of the parties’ total annual revenues.

      Bill 3 was unveiled on September 18 but it hasn't yet gone to second reading.

      Sweet deal for political parties

      As the Globe and Mail reported, if the new rules were in place last year, after subtracting donations in excess of the proposed $1,200 limit, the Liberals would have been left with only $3.1 million in allowable revenue in 2016, as compared to $3.6 million for the New Democrats. 

      Thanks to the political contributions tax credit, some 43.4 percent to 75 percent of the costs for almost all of that money raised by the parties—which would have been allowed under the new $1,200 threshold—is actually subsidized by taxpayers.

      At even 43.4 percent, that works out to an additional hidden public subsidy of at least $1.3 million that indirectly benefited the Liberals and of over $1.5 million that helped the NDP. The actual amount is obviously greater than that, based on the estimated $3 million total cost of those tax expenditures on page 105 of the new budget.

      Next year, those parties will each be entitled to receive about $1.9 million in publicly financed annual allowances, not whatever more they might get, to reimburse 50 percent of any byelections expenses—presumably, starting with the by-election to fill Christy Clark’s vacated seat. 

      Combining that $1.9 allowance with the $3.1 million in allowable contributions that the Liberals raised and the $3.6 million that the NDP raised would have yielded a total of $5 million in total revenue for the former and $5.5 million for the latter.

      Hence, the allowance alone would have represented a subsidy of 38 percent of the Liberals’ total revenue haul and 34.5 percent of the NDP’s total “earnings”. And that’s on top of the 43.4 percent to 75 percent personal income tax credits provided to their donors, which the parties also indirectly benefit from, on the first $1,150 of all individual political contributions.

      Talk about a sweet deal. It gets worse.

      For the Greens, who already raise almost all of their money from individuals, it is even sweeter.

      Again, the Globe found that if the new rules had been in place last year, some $715,000 of the Greens’ individual donations would have been allowed under the new $1,200 contribution cap.

      Under the new regime, next year, that party will be entitled to receive about $830,000 in annual allowance subsidies—which is more than the party even raised in 2016, in donations under the new contribution threshold.

      If that the new system had been in place then, the party would have had $1.58 million in total revenue, of which 52 percent would have come directly from taxpayers.

      But again, that masks the true subsidy to the Greens, which must also factor in the political contribution tax credit. It would have also indirectly benefited them to the tune of at least $310,310, and probably much more.

      In essence, they would have got most of their total revenue for the equivalent of pennies on the dollar of their truly private contributions.

      Such are the hazards of letting politicians write their own rules for funding their own partisan interests and activities.

      It's difficult for the B.C. Liberals to go after the NDP and Greens over campaign finance reform, given the former governing party's record of inaction under Christy Clark.
      B.C. Broadcast Consortium

      Politicians can't always be trusted to do the right thing

      All things considered, Bill 3 is a vast improvement on the system that has been in place. But it is hardly a frugal fix and should be amended; both to right the new wrongs it proposes to enshrine and also to address its own significant gaps and flaws.

      The B.C. Liberals were rightly pilloried for refusing to change the “wild west” campaign finance system, which had no rules or limits on how much parties could rake-in from large corporate and union donors, or from their wealthy friends and insiders.

      They had no interest in getting rid of that system that gave them a 2:1 fundraising advantage over the NDP. That was then and this is now.

      Now, the New Democrats and Greens want to pad all parties’ pockets—equitably, but assuredly—with a new system that largely supplants unrestricted private donations with a too-generous system of guaranteed public donations.

      The government defends that “temporary” new system of public campaign financing as a “transition” measure, to help the parties adjust to the new regime.

      Trouble is, it is simply far too rich, even for many of those like myself, who have advocated for a degree of public funding.

      And it is flatly dishonest to portray that as only “a transition fund [that] will be gone at the end of this mandate”, as Premier John Horgan characterized it.

      Bill 3 itself puts the lie to that claim, with its prescribed annual allowances that continue through the year after this government’s current mandate expires. And with its new permanent prescription for publicly financed election expense reimbursements. Both, in addition to the existing P.C.T.C., a permanent subsidy that is nowhere acknowledged or addressed.

      More importantly, as others have rightly noted, that claim and the entire new public-financing model flies in the face of what the NDP and Greens promised in the last election, try as Horgan may to deny it.

      “This is what we campaigned on,” he ridiculously maintained, in defence of his proposed new regime.

      Spare me.

      As Vaughn Palmer wrote, it is the opposite of what Horgan promised and campaigned on, as he well knows.

      Why can’t politicians just be honest about their lies? Or better yet, why are they so genetically predisposed to break their word? Frustrating. And infuriating.

      So much for “doing politics differently”, as Andrew Weaver had promised.

      Apparently, in his books, that doesn’t include staying true to one’s word. Or to the letter of the confidence and supply agreement, which also pledged to introduce legislation to “conduct a review of campaign finance and the Elections Act”.

      At least not when there is hard public cash on the table for your party, for your candidates, and for your own political benefit, and it is so much easier to take that money and run.

      Frankly, it’s not good enough, for either the NDP or the Green party.

      I expected better of them both, especially on such a central campaign commitment.

      Horgan can fix flaws in Bill 3

      Fortunately, it is not too late for them to rethink their actions in regard to the issue of public subsidies, and to do what they promised in the first place.

      Horgan would be wise to revisit that component of the bill. Pronto.

      Just admit you made a mistake and move on, instead of foolishly opting to carry that compromised cross through the next election.

      It is a major mistake that can easily be corrected, so as not to jeopardize the GreeNDP’s moral standing, or unnecessarily hurt its chances in either next year’s referendum on proportional representation or in the next provincial election.

      Horgan should simply agree to suspend those clauses, pending the public consultation process he repeatedly promised: namely, an outside panel on how parties should be financed, which Horgan vowed would be led by B.C.'s independent chief electoral officer.

      He could even provide for the parties’ proposed public funding allotment for 2018 and defer the rest, until that promised review is completed.

      If nothing else, the government could even publicly commit that it will not proclaim those sections of Bill 3 until that review is complete, if the legislation is passed without amendment. 

      Horgan could do any of those things to help his party and the Greens out of the avoidable mess that they have so keenly created for themselves, for whatever unfathomable reason, beyond the lure of easy money.

      But he won’t. The die is cast and both the NDP and Greens have resolved to cross that Rubicon, come what may.

      They are betting that any public backlash over the gift they are giving themselves with taxpayers’ money will soon fizzle out.

      They are literally banking on the odds that the Liberals will be hard-pressed to make much political hay out of that benefit; for they, too, will happy to take it, even as they attack it.

      Indeed, it will be tough for those hypocrites to assail their enemies as liars, when they also wrote the book on lying.

      But that doesn’t mean that taxpayers won’t feel screwed and betrayed by the parties that they trusted to do as they promised on how to fund campaign finances.

      Neither of the bill’s alliance partners should underestimate the potential for public wrath, as they should both well know from the price that Gordon Campbell rightly paid in the HST debacle.

      It need not be the Liberals who carry the case to punish the NDP and Greens for sticking taxpayers with so much of the cost of ending the B.C. Liberals’ corporate gravy train.

      The media has just begun to lead that charge. It will soon find suitable champions to lead the cause, if only because it is, indeed, just and reasonable.

      Making good on the promise to launch an independent review on the role of public funding in party financing is, in fact, the right thing to do.

      It is the only way to fully legitimize such a significant move in that direction. One that I wish to stress, I wholly support, provided that taxpayers are not gouged for such a large share of the cost.

      Premier John Horgan could face a public blowback on public financing of parties—just as Gordon Campbell was confronted by opposition to the HST.
      Stephen Hui

      Fourteen ways to win public's trust

      As I have suggested in previous pieces, there are several improvements that should be made to the current system—many of which were not addressed by Bill 3.

      These flaws, too, should be fixed. Here’s how.

      First, the public must be consulted before any new system is imposed that provides for direct public subsidies to parties and candidates. Anything less is unsatisfactory.

      To be clear, I am not at all opposed to the declining annual allowance that Bill 3 proposes, as a way of making the system fairer for all parties.

      But whether that should be a transitional measure or a permanent feature of the new system is something that concerns all taxpayers and all voters. They deserve to be consulted before it is embraced in law.

      Second, any such new system should not allow for both direct party subsidies and for indirect party subsidies that mask the true total cost of the public’s relative contribution to the political process.

      The political contributions tax credit should be scrapped, as was done in Quebec, so as to prevent such invisible “double dipping”. Either that, or the tax credit should be kept and the proposed annual allowance should be dramatically reduced.

      Bear in mind, even with its maximum $100 political contribution limit, Quebec only shells out 25 cents for each registered voter, distributed based on the proportion of votes received, as compared to the $2.50 per voter subsidy that Bill 3 will provide B.C.’s parties next year.

      Third, the total cost of all political subsidies should be hard-capped by law, and reduced accordingly in lean budget years, when governments are unable to avoid deficits.

      Before cutting any funding to crucial public services like health, education, child protection, environmental protection, or public safety, the parties should all bear a proportional burden in reducing public expenditures.

      They should be the first to bear a fair share of reductions in public funding, not the opposite.

      They should not be the only ones in B.C. that are statutorily entitled to guaranteed budget allotments, which are less urgently needed and which are indifferent to the parties’ own internal management disciplines or efforts to spend less.

      Fourth, any new public funding should come with new strings attached. There should be legislated restrictions on how that money can be spent, hard caps on the annual amounts that parties are legally allowed to spend, and new disclosure requirements to reveal how they spend their public subsidies each year.

      Fifth, the proposal to reimburse 50 percent of parties’ and candidates’ election expenses should be flat-out scrapped.

      It is plain wrong, especially without legislated restrictions on even the nature of those eligible expenses.

      It is just wrong to force any taxpayers, or to make anyone supporting a different party, to directly subsidize all parties’ and candidates’ election advertising expenses. Least of all, for attack ads that could and should be prevented, as a precondition for any party’s eligibility for public political funding.

      It is just wrong to subsidize the parties’ capital assets as election expenses that charge taxpayers for the so-called “market value” of their party-owned real estate.

      Same goes for subsidizing the costs of campaign staff, “troll” buses, “digital warriors”, or public opinion research that helps makes multimillionaires of pollsters and polling companies.

      Making taxpayers’ directly foot those bills as if they were their own election expenses, is just plain wrong.

      It is offensive to devote $11 million or more per election, to pay 50 percent of those costs that can be incurred without any controls or direct legislative approval. That’s a lot of money that could and should be going to much more important public priorities that are widely supported.

      Sixth, the bill should be amended to allow only to individuals who residents of B.C. and citizens of Canada to make campaign contributions. That is the approach that Quebec has taken, where only “qualified electors” are allowed to contribute.

      Only those who are eligible to vote in B.C. should be eligible to contribute to its political process; which would not include nonvoting residents of our province who hold Canadian resident status, as Bill 3 proposes.

      Seventh, Bill 3 should embrace the private member's bill that the NDP tabled before the last election to “restore pre-campaign spending limits on political candidates and political organizations which were removed in the spring of 2015”.

      That bill proposed to limit the amount that candidates and parties would be permitted to spend in the 60-day pre-campaign period, to $70,000 and $1.1 million respectively.

      At a minimum, those restrictions could be set as precondition for any party’s eligibility for public funding. It might remain legal to exceed those limits, but doing so could preclude any party from being eligible for public funding.

      According to Martyn Brown, Elections B.C. should be be given authority to determine if political donors are permanent residents, Canadian citizens, or eligible to vote in provincial elections.
      Elections B.C.

      Eighth, Bill 3 should adopt Ontario’s new legal spending limits on third-party advertising in the pre-campaign period. As proposed, it sets no such limits, probably out of constitutional concerns.

      Nevertheless, we should mirror Ontario’s new pre-election advertising spending limits and defend them together if necessary in court, as reasonable restrictions that still provide third parties ample avenues for valid political expression.

      Ontario actually restricts the amount that third parties can spend during the six-month period immediately before the issue of an election writ, to a maximum of $24,000 in any electoral district and $600,000 province-wide, indexed to inflation.

      Now that will really help get “big money” out of Ontario politics in a way that Bill 3 will never do in British Columbia. We should fix that.

      Ninth, we should fix the uncertain provision that would require sponsorship contributions to be reported within 14 days of being received by third-party advertisers that spend more than $10,000.

      Under Bill 3, that provision would not come into force immediately. Rather, it would take effect at some unspecified future date, under a cabinet order.

      There is no reason to indefinitely delay that requirement. It should be prescribed in law, to come into immediate effect with the rest of the legislation. Especially with the prospect of third party election advertising in excess of that amount, in advance of the Kelowna West by-election.

      Tenth, Bill 3 should specifically address the growing problem of so-called “dark money”—political funding that is anonymously contributed to finance third-party electioneering and that is not subject to disclosure requirements.

      The new law will go some way towards addressing that challenge in restoring the previous 60-day, precampaign period; but the definition of election advertising it enshrines for such third-party advertising could and should be extended to enact new disclosure requirements for six months prior to the campaign.

      Eleventh, Bill 3 should include new provisions to regulate and illuminate the process of soliciting political contributions. Sadly, it is utterly silent on that point.

      We should take our cue from Quebec.

      In that province, only those who are officially designated and authorized to solicit donations can do so. As well, anyone asking for money must hold a “certificate of solicitor” that they must show to anyone who asks to see it.

      In Quebec, all parties must send the directeur général des élections du Québec (the equivalent of B.C.’s chief electoral officer) the list of solicitors designated during the year, as part of their financial reports. Those names are not made public, but at least they provide a new level of information to prevent abuse and to aid the enforcement of legislated rules and regulations.

      We should adopt a similar protocol under Bill 3, and go further, by requiring all parties’ fundraising letters, telemarketing scripts, emails, and other targeted fundraising appeals to be filed with Elections B.C. and publicized in short order.

      Plus, we should require the names of the individuals who sit on party finance committees to be reported to Elections B.C. and publicly posted. They are the folks who devise the parties’ solicitation strategies, and we should all have a right to know who they are.

      Twelfth, we should also adopt Quebec’s model for directing campaign contributions.

      In Quebec, the law presribes that “every contribution of more than $50, and every contribution of $50 or less made by cheque, by preauthorized debit … or by credit card, intended for an authorized entity, must be paid to us [i.e. the Directeur général des élections du Québec]; we will transmit them to the entity concerned afterwards.”

      That’s way cleaner than allowing donors to contribute directly to parties that have already shown they are institutionally incapable of observing the rules.

      The parties simply don’t have the capacity to properly check each donor’s eligibility as a B.C. resident and either Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada. Elections B.C. should be charge with that responsibility.

      It would do a far better job of ensuring that all donations are contributed by individuals who are, in fact, eligible to give that money to parties and candidates.

      Had that system been in place over the last decade, we probably would not now be faced with a major RCMP investigation into illegal campaign contributions that were either unwittingly or deliberately made and received.

      The surest way to prevent such scandals in future is to make Elections B.C. responsible for processing all campaign contributions in accordance with the law, as it counterpart in Quebec has done since 2013.

      Thirteenth, the new provisions regulating the attendance and reporting on politicians attending party fundraisers needs to be significantly broadened and strengthened.

      All elected members and senior political staffers should be subject to those provisions, not just party leaders, cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries.

      The Green party’s platform pledged to altogether “ban members of the Executive Council (Cabinet) from engaging in partisan fundraising activities while in office and explore similar restrictions for all MLAs”.

      That might go too far. Yet all of those elected members and their senior staffers should be captured by the bill’s new requirements aimed at disclosing who attends those fundraisers, the cost of those pay-for-access tickets, and the amounts they generate for parties.

      Finally, Bill 3 should be amended to explicitly outlaw all discretionary government advertising in the four months prior to set elections.

      The Clark government eliminated that provision that the Campbell administration had put in place in 2008-09, to prohibit partisan political advertising with taxpayers’ dollars.

      I expect the NDP is still committed to that platform promise, which it also previously supported in private members’ bills.

      Why not legislate that change right now? And while we’re at it, why not make all government advertising subject to prior approval by the auditor beneral, as the NDP also promised?


      All of the above are only a smattering of improvements that really should be made to Bill 3, to really make B.C.’s campaign finance system more transparent, accountable, equitable, and affordable.

      The NDP’s legislation largely misses some of those marks. In part, I suspect, due to the rushed time frame that the government had for issuing its drafting instructions and getting the bill written, in addition to all of the other legislation it had to process through the pipe.

      For sure, the guts of Bill 3 are pretty, darn great.

      As a starting point for radical reform that is sorely needed, it is far more commendable than not.

      Yet the public angst and anger over its public financing component is real and bound to grow. It is not to be dismissed or politically “weathered”, in some cynical assessment that the B.C. Liberals won’t win much from its resistance.

      Those overly generous public subsidy provisions are a godsend to Dianne Watts, or anyone else from outside the Liberal caucus, who might enter that party’s leadership contest.

      They are gold to the opponents of proportional representation.

      The critics of P.R. will surely use it as an example of how parties compromise their campaign promises in minority governments. They will point to it as an outcome that will be assured by a Yes vote in that referendum, and that will be encouraged by a new publicly-subsidized party funding model, which encourages and rewards minor parties. 

      Will Horgan listen and pull the plug on that component of Bill 3, at least temporarily, pending his promised independent review?

      Not bloody likely.

      He’s probably too “old school” for that, with no shortage of advisers and caucus cheerleaders who will be telling him not to give an inch.

      Too bad. Big mistake. But that’s politics.

      Real leadership would involve changing that narrative and dynamic.

      Real leadership means admitting when you are wrong and correcting your mistakes. Which in the case of Bill 3, are totally fixable and should not be allowed to crush so much good work, in the eyes of so many.

      Do the right thing, John.

      Let the good shine by taking the spotlight off the place it doesn’t yet belong, on the issue of public political funding.

      Appoint that independent review you promised and let’s get on with the other reforms your government has so admirably initiated, as promised.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact Brown at