Thursday, February 20, 2003

By Paul Willcocksxxx
VICTORIA - Jean Chretien's political financing reforms has major flaws, but it at least recognizes a problem that B.C. should also be taking
Mr. Chretien's reforms miss the point. They attempt to reduce the influence of corporate and union donations in politics, when what really needs to be reduced is the influence of money,
And his effort ignores the obvious: any plan drafted by a government in power will be tainted with the perception of self-interest. xxx
The people need to deal with this problem, not the party in power. And he if Mr. Chretien needed a model, he could have looked to the province's planned citizens' assembly on electoral
There's much to applaud in the federal proposal, especially provisions that would end the secretive fund-raising free-for-all that's now allowed for nominations, leadership races and political slush funds. Spending would now be subject to limits, and donors would have to be
Unions and corporations will be barred from giving money to parties - although they will be able to give up to a $1,000 to a candidate - and individual donations will be limited to $10,
Most Canadians would welcome an end to corporate and union donations. A study done in 2000 found almost 90 per cent of Canadians believed "people with money have a lot of influence over the government." Heritiage Minister Sheila Copps recently confirmed the reality behind the suspicion, blaming the influence of big donors for the Liberals' hesitation on the Kyoto
Anyway, suspicion is logical . Corporate directors have a legal obligation to act in the best interests of shareholders. So if a company chose to donate $250,000 to the federal Liberals, through a web of subsidiairies, there would have to be some expected benefit. xxx
Corporations could argue that they have a legitimate interest in government policy, and chose to contribute to the Liberals to prevent an NDP victory. But the Liberals had the last election won. The company didn't need to spend a cent to ensure that result.
Which leaves the average citizen to wonder if the corporation had to be hoping for some future benefits from a greatful government. xxx
Mr. Chretien's plan makes a reasonable stab at reducing the influence of corporations and
But then he misses the next step. Instead of chosing to force all parties to spend less, the Chretien plan turns around and replaces almost all the lost donation revenue with direct transfers from taxpayers. Parties would get $1.50 per vote garnered in the previous election. That would mean the Liberals would get $7.9 million a year from taxpayers, Alliance $4.9 million, Conservatives $2.4 million, Bloc Quebecoise $2.1 million and the NDP $1.6-million. Taxpayers would also double the amount they contributed to parties' election campaigns, covering half the
The reforms fail to question the underlying assumption that politics should be a big money business. Mr. Chretien missed the chance to consider whether the public would be better served by a political system that wasn't fuelled by money, that encouraged the participation of ordinary Canadians instead of scores of paid staffers and dealt more with ideas and less with the obsessions of political
Premier Gordon Campbell says he's not interested in looking at political financing reform. The system works pretty well, he says. That's a normal response from the party in power, which has a huge fund-raising advantage, able to hold high-priced lunches with cabinet ministers or seek momney from companies - or unions - interested in being in the government's good books. But if the federal rules had been in place, Sustainable Resources Minister Stan Hagen could have taken over the fisheries file without questions being raised about campaign donations he received from aquaculture companies. xxx
But Mr. Campbell already has the tool he needs to deal with the issue. The assembly of ordinary citizens being asked to prepare a plan for electoral reform, based on Gordon Gibson's report, will be at work this year. The same assembly could tackle the issue of money in
When 90 per cent of the public think that money, not the common good, drives the political system, it's time for action that goes much farther than Mr. Chretien's

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