Commentary: Big Money's Last Hurrah

Dermod Travis
By Dermod Travis
April 19th, 2018

The big money party is over and what a party it was. Given its well-deserved reputation in B.C. it’s fitting that it went out with a bang in 2017.

First, though, a walk down memory lane for an appreciation of its shock and awe legacy on B.C. politics.

Between 2005 and 2017, B.C.’s political parties reported $206.9 million in donations, with the B.C. Green party raking in $4.3 million, the B.C. NDP ($63 million) and the B.C. Liberal party ($132 million). Trade unions accounted for $20.6 million of the haul, individuals ($74.9 million) and corporations ($90.4 million), with the balance split among unincorporated businesses and non-profits.

That’s just the donations over the $250 reporting threshold. The Liberals brought in another $7.9 million in donations under $250 and the NDP $18 million.

Donations poured into party coffers from across Canada and around the world and sometimes from the most unlikely of donors.

G&E Studios – a company covertly controlled by the Government of China until Reuters blew the whistle on its ownership – donated $5,000 to the Liberals and Corix Infrastructure ($4,500), a company “principally owned” by the B.C. Investment Management Corporation, B.C.’s public sector pension fund manager.

Professional sports teams were big fans of the Liberals, with donations from the B.C. Lions ($138,420), the Vancouver Whitecaps ($25,595), the Canucks ($23,750), the Toronto Blue Jays ($700), the Seattle Seahawks ($500) and the Edmonton Oilers ($400). Total donations to the NDP: $0.

The United Steelworkers Union was the top donor at $3.35 million (all to the NDP), while Teck Resources was runner-up with $2.6 million to the Liberals and $112,230 to the NDP.

And that doesn’t include Fording’s donations ($147,480) when Teck held a 40 per cent stake in the coal trust or the $203,197 from Neptune Bulk Terminals ($15,290 NDP), its joint venture with Saskatchewan potash exporter Canpotex ($1,000).

One insider – Norman Keevil – topped up Teck’s donations with another $218,970 to the Liberals.

But it wasn’t the mining industry that was the top industrial sector for donations. That award goes to the real estate industry at more than $27 million.

Together, the B.C. Real Estate Association, three industry-related firms and 42 property developers all donated more than $100,000, accounting for $23 million of the $27 million. The 46 unique donors made the donations through more than 350 different companies.

Befitting its reputation, 2017 was par for the course.

Two parties ended the year in the black and one in its primary party colour.

The Green party raised $1.44 million and all of it from individuals. It’s largest donor was former candidate Jerry Kroll at $29,190. The party ended the year with a $206,951 surplus.

The Liberal party pulled in $13 million. There was a four-way tie for largest donation at $100,000 between Aquilini Investment Group, Townline Homes, Rick Ilich and Chip Wilson. It ended the year in the red by $7.4 million.

The NDP was tops in the fundraising department at $15.4 million, with the United Steelworkers cutting the largest cheque at $500,000. The party ended 2017 with an $820,470 surplus.

A bit of political trivia, B.C.’s all-time single largest donation was more than $1.8 million by the B.C. Patriot party to the Advocational party in 2006. Long story.

Perhaps hoping for a friendly ear from the new government – and not quite certain which party it would be after May 9 – left a few donors in a quandary and two parties the beneficiaries.

The Liberals raised $3.2 million from corporations post-election, more than $1.6 million of it from property developers and of that $1.1 million was donated by just 13 developers.

Companies controlled by UK-based billionaire Murray Edwards donated $48,900 to the Liberals, including $11,900 from Imperial Metals owner of the Mount Polley Mine.

Restaurants donated $163,118, including Joey Restaurants ($22,500), Earls ($25,000), Cactus Club ($50,000) and $50,000 from Boston Pizza co-op advertising (guess this counts as advertising).

On June 26, the party reported donations of $1,150 from 23 different companies. 21 of the 23 companies part of Stern Partners, which also contributed $23,550 that day.

When the government changed hands, though, something funny happened on the way to the bank. Turns out quite a few traditional Liberal party donors were no longer that party’s best friends forever.

The New Car Dealers Association donated $90,050 to the Liberals in 2017 and $55,500 to the NDP, but only after it had assumed power.

In the preceding 12 years, the association donated $1.3 million to the Liberals and $82,790 to the NDP.

Site C contractor-to-be Aecon ($5,000) made its first-ever appearance on a NDP donor list.

The NDP went on the political fundraising equivalent of a pub crawl on Sept. 21 reporting $579,500 in donations from the food and booze industry, nearly double the $300,000 the Liberals raised from the industry on one day in 2010, as reported on by Jeremy Nuttall and Bill Tieleman in the now-defunct 24 Hours in 2013.

The party brought in more than $700,000 from property developers – $500,130 from 10 families alone – but unlike the crawl, no one date jumps out. These results seem more like a family-by-family affair.

Six companies that are part of the Concord Pacific empire donated $55,000 on July 25, Holborn Holdings and TA Management – subsidiaries of Malaysian-based TA Global Berhad – were down for $25,000 each on Aug. 16, as was TL Housing Solutions ($50,000), Wesgroup Properties ($40,000) on Aug. 18, Polygon Homes and two associated companies ($25,000) on Aug. 25, Burke Mountain Partnership and four associated companies ($25,000) on Sept. 11, Bosa Properties and two associated companies ($102,500) on Sept. 27, and three companies ($15,000) owned by Wall Financial on Nov. 23.

Hoping for the best, companies in the oil and gas industry pumped more than $64,000 into the party’s coffers, including: Encana ($30,525), FortisBC ($7,100), Woodfibre LNG ($6,850), Enbridge ($5,500), Chevron ($3,050), Imperial Oil ($3,000), Canadian Natural Resources ($1,050) and Conocophillips ($1,050).

Kinder Morgan doesn’t appear on the NDP’s list.

The NDP raised more than $126,000 from trade associations, including the Insurance Bureau of Canada ($21,200), the Progressive Contractors Association ($5,000), the B.C. Guide Outfitters Association ($650) and the Victoria Harbour Authority ($500).

Even the slots paid off for the NDP with $68,483 in donations from B.C. casinos.

Despite tabling a bill on Sept. 18 to ban corporate and union donations, both the NDP and Liberals continued the practice till “big money’s” final breath, pulling in just shy of $3.2 million between them.

Conspicuous by his absence from any list was “Condo King” Bob Rennie ($305,550), a faithful Liberal donor since 2007, while another donor returned to the Liberal fold, former premier Christy Clark ($340).

Almost fittingly – given its 2017 fundraising results – one of the NDP donors was Superachievers Financial ($1,250) and, perhaps, having run a $7.4 million deficit, a donation from Finale Editworks ($1,500) might not be a good omen for the Liberals.

RIP, big money. You won’t be missed.

Other News Stories