Martyn Brown: How Andrew Weaver could work wonders for taxpayers

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      In my last article, I outlined how Bill 3 might be improved, to end B.C.’s “wild west” of campaign financing without inviting a new “rile west” era of taxpayer outrage at its too-rich public financing provisions.

      Since I wrote that piece, I read with interest the media reports of NDP finance minister Carole James’ speech to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade. Her comments on the federal government’s need to revisit its proposed tax reforms, for lack of proper consultation, were especially pertinent to her government’s own need to revisit Bill 3.

      She speculated that the Trudeau government would be forced to amend its legislation in light of the public blowback it has received for those tax measures.

      B.C. Green party Leader Andrew Weaver might suggest that her government do the same thing on the contentious public financing components of the Election Amendment Act. Not only to keep its word to B.C. voters, but to acknowledge the negative feedback it has already received from so many angry taxpayers.

      The NDP-Green alliance is getting rightly hammered for corrupting the considerable merits of its otherwise terrific effort to get big money out of B.C. politics, with a new regime that instead sticks taxpayers with the lion’s share of the bill.

      Premier John Horgan, in particular, is getting suitably slaughtered for his party’s sneaky scheme.

      It betrays his election promise to launch an independent review of campaign finance before an NDP government would ever contemplate imposing any new taxpayer-funded subsidies.

      He broke his word and his attempts to pretend he did not are pathetic and unworthy of his otherwise entirely laudable actions to fix a broken system, just as he promised he would.

      Weaver’s Green party is also getting lots of well-deserved heat for its role in supporting that new public subsidy regime. For it also betrays the commitment to an independent review of campaign finances that was envisioned the Greens’ historic agreement with the NDP.

      Attorney General David Eby introduced Bill 3, which, if passed without amendments, would provide huge public subsidies to political parties.
      B.C. government

      Huge subsidies come from taxpayers

      Under the new model proposed by Bill 3, B.C. taxpayers will be on the hook, directly or indirectly, for at least 50 percent of all funding that goes into party coffers, in flagrant contempt of what was promised, and without any public input, whatsoever.

      That is patently wrong and should be utterly unacceptable to the Greens and New Democrats alike, but especially to Weaver, who is a leader of exceptional integrity and honour.

      He is also a guy with a mathematical mind, who knows how to play chess, and when to make a smart move that will pay off in the long run.

      What appears like a sacrifice is sometimes called for to win the game, which in this case for his party, starts and ends with winning the referendum on proportional representation.

      Angry editorials in the Globe and Mail, Times Colonist, Vancouver Sun, critical columns by the likes of Vaughn Palmer and Mike Smyth, and brutal broadcast news coverage, such as this CTV story, are just a handful of examples of what lies ahead, if Bill 3 is passed without amendment.

      With the B.C. Liberal leadership race now getting underway, the NDP’s politically tone-deaf and cynical move to so extravagantly fund all parties with taxpayers’ money will be front and centre in the news for months and years to come.

      It promises to be the “gift that keeps on giving” for the only party that should be instead burying its head in shame for its defence of the current “cash-for-access” system.

      More importantly, strategically, it could be the death knell for proportional representation, if the Greens and New Democrats are dumb enough to allow Bill 3 to proceed in its current form.

      Why on Earth would either party want to hand the Liberals such an easy new cause célèbre with which to attack their new minority government? Why would they ever want to breathe new life into their discredited enemies’ party by imposing a broken promise that enrages so many swing voters?

      I had to laugh at James’s anemic defence of Bill 3.

      It will impact her future budgets and provide new tax expenditures on top of the costly ones already provided through the political contributions tax credit, for which she is directly responsible.

      Yet when asked to defend it after her Board of Trade speech, the best she could come with was this cop-out:

      "Our premier took a look at the evidence and made the decision when we came in that that was the way to move the bill ahead."

      Finance Minister Carole James offered up a fairly lame defence of Bill 3 at a recent speaking engagement.
      B.C. government

      I see. It was all Horgan’s doing, lest there be any doubt. The premier did it, not me, the finance minister as much as indicated, raising more questions than answers, in my mind, about her own input or lack of it.

      Indeed, Weaver also said as much.

      He repeatedly suggested that the Greens did not ask for a public subsidy, that it was the NDP’s idea—and I believe him.

      "We did not bring this to the table," he said. "But we understand that for bigger parties, it's more of an issue."

      Weaver’s right.

      All the more reason he should lead the way now, to right that wrong before it is enshrined in law.

      Greens proved they don't need big money

      Even though the Greens would certainly be the biggest relative beneficiary of the new declining annual public subsidy, and of the plan to reimburse 50 percent of all parties’ and candidates’ election expenses with taxpayers’ money, Weaver’s party is also the best positioned to do without those new benefits.

      Thanks to his prior action to voluntarily prohibit corporate or union donations within his own party, the Greens already only rely on individual donations.

      They proved that their party can do just fine, politically, without either massive new injections of public funding or without spending untold millions of dollars on campaigns, as the so-called “major” parties do.

      That is even more reason for him to stand up now and say, enough is enough: let’s suspend the public financing provisions of Bill 3, pending the outcome of Horgan’s promised independent review and public consultation process.

      Because the alternative is to support what amounts to a breach of public trust that is unbecoming of the ethical alternative the Greens ran to offer all voters.

      Here’s the thing. If Weaver does not do that and the bill passes without amendment, his party will be virtually signing the death warrant for proportional representation. Count on it.

      Its opponents will cling to that sell-out as a compelling example of how minority governments can work against taxpayers’ interests.

      The Liberals will channel the public anger at those provisions and the betrayal that they represent to vote No on P.R.

      The new Liberal leader will hold that bill up in encouraging taxpayers to punish the NDP and Greens by voting against P.R., and to also prevent them from putting in place a new electoral system that will reward “minor” parties at taxpayers’ expense.

      Weaver should not want to run that risk. And neither should his party.

      For B.C. Liberal leadership candidates such as Dianne Watts, Bill 3 is the gift that will keep on giving.

      What does NDP really think of electoral reform?

      Frankly, it makes me wonder about Horgan’s true commitment to P.R.

      He of all people must know how strategically harmful his betrayal on public financing might be to that cause and to the NDP’s reelection chances, as that debate is sure to shape up through the next year and beyond.

      Has the NDP really forgotten how devastating the taxpayers’ revolt was to its own government back in the 1990s? That helped pave Gordon Campbell’s ascent to power. And the government eventually was forced to backed down, after taking a major public-relations hit.

      Has Horgan really already forgotten how politically devastating lying to taxpayers can be for a sitting premier? Is the NDP’s memory of the HST really so foggy as to repeat its stupid example with a fresh action that was struck from the same mould?

      I don’t think so.

      I just think that Horgan has made the political calculation that it won’t cost his government too much, even if it does give the Liberals a new wedge issue that ultimately works to nuke a new electoral system that his own party is split on.

      I suspect he may not be remotely as committed to winning the vote on P.R. as he let on in the campaign, and he is not too worried about how the public financing aspects of his otherwise commendable new legislation might effect that campaign.

      I think he has just decided that his party cannot afford to not take the money and run: that it is deep in debt and needs that new dough to adjust to the brave new world without big private money. And he is banking that the Liberals will do likewise, as voters say, “a pox on all your houses”.

      Weaver can flip all of that on its head in a heartbeat.

      Instead of blithely inviting that eventuality, which has his party and P.R. in its crosshairs, he can stand tall and take a new stand.

      He can show the merits of minority governments by truly listening to the taxpayers, as James suggests her federal counterpart should do.

      He should insist on reconsidering the only contentious elements of Bill 3 that are also so morally repugnant, through a very simple and easy fix.

      Former premier Christy Clark was mocked for her approach to campaign-finance reform. Could Horgan be next?

      Just stand up and say that your party will not give its consent to those public financing provisions until the promised independent review has been completed.

      Just table an amendment to suspend those sections of the legislation, pending the outcome of that review and a new vote on a new bill that acts on its findings.

      Go ahead. Give the parties their first year of public financing, if that will help soothe that transition in the interim. Most taxpayers could live with that as a reasonable resolution, to enact the rest of Bill 3 and to help facilitate an independent review on campaign finance.

      There is no need for the Greens or the NDP to altogether reject public funding for parties at all. They can simply embrace public consultation that honours Horgan’s own election commitments.

      That would not be a betrayal by the Greens to the NDP.

      It would be an act of true leadership; one that would correct a cynical political miscalculation and that would reinforce their arguments for P.R., by showing how much better a minority government can be.

      After all, if the NDP’s betrayal on this point is an issue now, it would be so much worse in a majority government where no party could leverage its votes in the legislature to force a more responsible and responsive outcome.

      Just saying, Andrew.

      It is entirely within your hands to once again be a hero, as you were last May, by once again making the right choice. Your province will thank you.

      If Horgan is really wise, he will pull the plug himself on his own error and will announce forthwith that he will launch his promised independent review.

      In any case, the NDP will be in no position to score any public points by crying foul at the Greens’ much-needed change of heart. Because it is so obvious that rethinking this mistake is the right thing to do.

      Make the call today, Andrew. First to John and then to the press gallery. Before the Liberal leadership candidates get one more column inch at the GreeNDP’s expense on this issue, of all issues, which should be a major triumph for responsible government.

      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