VICTORIA — Premier John Horgan was at the two-month mark of his term when he broke a major pre-election promise on political party financing.As NDP leader before the election, Horgan said repeatedly that in getting rid of big money in politics, he did not intend to replace it with direct subsidies from taxpayers.Indeed, he mocked the whole notion as fake news from the leading recipient of big money herself, Premier Christy Clark.“It’s always alternative facts with the premier,” said Horgan. “She said my preference was taxpayers pay for political parties. That’s just not the case.”Plus there was his answer to this question in a pre-election radio interview: “When you table your legislation, just to be clear, there is going to be nothing in there about, sort of, taxpayers having to fund political parties?”Horgan: “Yeah, that is correct. That’s what we said in the past and that’s what we’re going to do after the May election, when we form government.”Far from directly sticking taxpayers with a bill, the NDP election platform said party financing would be left to an independent commission, headed by the chief electoral officer.But all that was relegated to the trash heap when the New Democrats introduced their bill to get big money out of politics in September 2017.Gone was the independent commission. Gone the outside review of the options for party financing. In its place a direct serving of taxpayer funding, totalling $30 million over five years.LISTEN: This week on In The House, Mike Smyth and Rob Shaw discuss NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s victory in the federal Burnaby-South byelection, the NDP government’s response to threatened school closures in Vancouver, the latest in the legislature spending scandal and the province’s response to a measles outbreak.
When reporters pressed Horgan on breaking his promise, he replied: “It is not what you are making it out to be. This is a transition fund and will be gone at the end of this mandate.”Not so. A third of the $30 million was permanent and the rest could be extended by a future vote among the elected MLAs who stood to benefit most from the subsidy.Not surprisingly, the Opposition exploded in outrage. “A travesty” and “a complete betrayal” and “disgusting,” said Andrew Wilkinson, soon to become the new leader of the B.C. Liberals.But only one candidate for the Liberal leadership vowed to reject the promised taxpayer funding. That was Todd Stone, and he finished fourth.Wilkinson, on winning the leadership in early 2018, swallowed his disgust and took the money — starting at about $2 million a year, under the per vote formula in the NDP legislation.Nor have subsequent developments made it any easier for the Liberals to turn up their nose at the tax dollars flowing their way.The most recent filing from Elections B.C. shows the Opposition having a harder time than the governing party adapting to the new fundraising regime.The NDP raised just over $2 million between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2018. Over the same six-month span, the Liberals raised $1.69 million.There was a similar gap over the full year, with the Liberals taking in $4.4 million to the NDP’s $5.5 million. Deducting the roughly $2 million subsidy that the two big parties each received, the gap appears even greater.The Liberals raised just $2.4 million on their own, or about two-thirds of the $3.5 million tally for the NDP.Trying to make the best of it was Emile Scheffel, executive director of a Liberal party still working to pay off its loans from the 2017 campaign.“We actually beat the NDP on the category of contributions greater than $250, but they smoked us again on donations smaller than $250,” Scheffel told Rob Shaw of The Vancouver Sun.“What that says is we have work to do overall. Where we’re going to focus that work is on smaller donations.”Smaller donations from many individuals have long been a mainstay of NDP fundraising. Whereas the Liberals specialized in maximizing big-ticket donations from rich donors and corporations. Not surprising they are finding it harder to adapt.The uphill struggle continues, judging from Scheffel’s recent followup to party supporters on the Nanaimo byelection.With second-place finisher Tony Harris, the Liberals managed to better their performance from the 2017 general election in both total votes and share of the popular vote.But they had to do so “with a fraction of past local campaign budgets,” while competing against the NDP political machine.“A formidable beast,” writes Scheffel, “staffed by highly capable organizers, and it extends well beyond their core party organization. A plethora of NDP-friendly unions held well-timed conferences and meetings in Nanaimo, sending their members out to knock on doors.”He also claims the NDP was assisted by “dark-money groups” of environmental and political activists: “These organizations are not required to disclose the majority of their funding, much of which comes from U.S. foundations whose economic interests are directly counter to B.C.’s and Canada’s.”Consequently, says Scheffel, “we’re at risk of being outgunned in the key ridings that will decide the next election.”As for the taxpayer funding, the Liberals will surely continue to need it until the election. If they win, they could then phase out the subsidy as did the Stephen Harper Conservatives when they were in power at the national level.But for now the era of big public money replacing big private money continues.And for irony watchers, there remains the spectacle of the party that squawked the most about John Horgan’s broken promise on taxpayer subsidies needing the money more than does the NDP.firstname.lastname@example.org/VaughnPalmerRelated CLICK HERE to report a typo.Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email email@example.com