Column: Money and Influence -- Telling It Like It Is

Dermod Travis
By Dermod Travis
June 8th, 2016

Former chief of staff to then-Premier Gordon Campbell, Martyn Brown made some refreshingly candid comments about B.C.’s political financing culture on Shaw TV’s Voice of B.C. the other day.

“No corporation, no industry, no union gives the level of money that they give to politicians without expecting special consideration in return, and they do get it,” Brown said.

“For the Liberals, the housing industry, construction industry, real estate, the liquor industry, energy industry, certainly the mining industry, big forest industry – all gave exceptional amounts of money, and they got exceptional attention.”

Makes one wonder what Brown means by “exceptional.”

Categorizing donors isn’t an exact science, but since 2005 the liquor industry has donated at least $2.1 million to the B.C. Liberal party, construction companies ($3.3 million), oil and gas ($3.8 million), mining ($5.1 million), forestry ($5.8 million) and – from framing to ‘shadow flipping’ – everything real estate ($12.8 million).

A grand total of $33 million, nearly half the party’s total corporate haul and almost three times what the B.C. NDP has brought in from unions.

Brown went on to add, “No corporation, no industry, no union gives the level of money that they give to politicians without expecting special consideration in return, and they do get it.”

Here’s a sampling of what “special considerations” might mean.

There’s the Bob – Condo King – Rennie ($329,850) consideration.

The government recently moved to curb ‘shadow flipping’ in the real estate industry, except for one tiny exception to the new rules: flipping pre-sale condominiums is still permissible.

In 2014, Mines Minister Bill Bennett shared this nugget with Michael Smyth of the Province newspaper: “It’s really insulting for anybody to suggest that because we take donations from a group of corporations like the mining industry that we’re going to cut them a break. We can’t be bought, OK?”

Maybe rented, though.

In February, Bennett announced a $300 million electricity bill deferral plan for six mining companies. Add up the donations from the six and it totals $2.7 million.

To get a sense of how much that sweetheart deal was written on the fly, BC Hydro had to pull its request for approval of a three-year rate increase from the B.C. Utilities Commission, opting for a one-year interim increase while it redoes its forecasts, in part because of Bennett’s largesse.

Forests minister Steve Thompson took “great offence” last month when the NDP suggested during question period that Canfor ($754,631) and West Fraser ($907,420) benefitted from a look the other way consideration in 2014.

When the two companies got caught logging green timber and not “dead and dying pine” – as was stipulated in their licenses – Thompson gave the two a stern finger-wagging instead of fines of up to $6 million.

At the same time, Bennett was showering the two companies – as well as Catalyst Paper ($149,465) and Paper Excellence ($90,488) – with up to $100 million for energy conservation projects “to help offset rising industrial electricity rates.”

Should school boards and hospitals be so lucky.

On the Thursday afternoon before the Victoria Day long weekend, the government announced that some natural gas projects owned by Spectra Energy ($156,585) and TransCanada Corporation ($123,451) wouldn’t be required to undergo provincial environmental assessments, as an end run around a recent court ruling.

Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman managed to keep a straight face last month when he told Smyth, “If you want to donate to a political party, you can donate to a political party. But if you think you’re buying anything, you’re not.”

Coleman must have forgotten about that dust-up with his caucus colleagues in 2012 over his proposed boutique tax break for Pacific Western Brewing ($191,932).

He seems to have forgotten about his $10 million stocking stuffer for B.C.’s horse racing industry too, the one he announced on December 20, 2012.

Coincidentally, the Aquilini family ($1.29 million) has interests in the industry.

On one side you have the three boy scouts – Bennett, Thompson and Coleman – swearing scout’s honour and on the other you have Brown calling it like it is.

As Brown said: “Big corporations that give these massive amounts of money do so because they get results. They get tax relief. They get credits. It makes the government stand up and listen when they lobby and anybody who pretends otherwise is not telling the truth.”


Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC. www.integritybc.ca

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