Campaign Finance Reform in BC

July 4, 2017

Now that we have finally dumped the cash-soaked BC Liberals, and an NDP/Green alliance is preparing its parliamentary program, we need to engage in a serious discussion about electoral finance reform.  I am glad to see the debate beginning to heat up on Twitter and elsewhere and I thought I would add my few cents to the discussion.

First, I am sure most critics of the present system agree that (a) corporate and union donations must be banned; and (b) reform needs to encompass both provincial and municipal politics. Beyond that, differences emerge.

In the discussions I have seen to date there is much concentration on limiting individual contributions; mainly, it seems, as a way to stop the infamous $25,000 lunches that Christy Clark and Gregor Robertson seem to enjoy so much. I believe that to be the wrong focus, preferring instead to concentrate on transparency and equalising opportunity for independents and smaller parties.

Transparency is vital for keeping the system honest and open. But transparency cannot just be for campaigns, it must cover all aspects of party financing between elections too. Vision Vancouver (and no doubt other parties) have received millions of dollars in contributions in the “dark years” between elections when no reporting is required. This must stop  Political parties are public entities and their accounts must be public also. In addition, the reporting of contributions should be as close to real-time as technically feasible — no more waiting for the end of the quarter or the end of the year.  Monthly statements should be the least we should accept, and with modern accounting software there is no excuse for anything less.

Limits on campaign spending are key to allowing smaller parties and independents to compete. What those limits should be is open for debate (and will presumably be different for municipal and provincial constituencies) but they need to accomplish two goals: creating a more level playing field for all who want to run, and limiting the extraordinary waste of resources that, for example, we see so blatantly in Vancouver elections. I believe that whatever limits are set should cover at least a period of one year up to the election date.

These limits also need to encompass and control so-called third party expenditures. I haven’t thought through a solution to that issue yet, but I want to make sure it is not forgotten.

Finally, let me return to the question of individual donations. Limiting campaign spending and real-time contribution reporting will reduce the gross discrepancies that have occurred in the past. However, I am not at all sure we need to worry about it anyway.  Let us say that a campaign limit of $50,000 is set for a mayoral contest. If Joe Billionaire wants to fork out the entire $50,000 why should that bother us providing it becomes immediately known through the transparency rules?  I would argue, to the contrary, that the payment would quickly become a campaign issue with that candidate being branded Joe Billionaire’s lapdog and probably costing at least as many votes as her backer’s money may have gained.

Well, that’s a start. As always the devil is in the details and I look forward to a healthy and thorough discussion of this vital topic.

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Housing Policy — Same Horse, Different Jockey?

June 29, 2017

I am spending the afternoon watching the last gasps of the BC Liberals as the debate on their Throne Speech comes to a conclusion. The assumption is that, some time today, the question will be called and Clark’s government will fail to win the confidence of the House and be forced to resign.  The next step — as is our colonial wont — is up to the Lt. Governor, the Queen’s representative. She can ask the NDP’s John Horgan to form a government with his Green allies, or she can call another election.

As a Liberal Party donor and friend to the Premier, the Lt. Governor, I suspect, will do what Clark wants (but dare not say out loud) and dissolve the House, leaving Clark and her ministers to continue governing while we waste tens of millions of dollars on another exercise in faux democracy. Clark will then run her campaign on the Throne Speech policies which she stole wholesale from the NDP and could well win. I hope I am wrong because another term under the Liberals is hard to contemplate.

That being said, an article in the Mainlander today reminds us that both the Liberals and the NDP are neo-liberal capitalist parties and, on the key question of housing, are not very different:

“The [NDP] platform carries key planks over from previous campaigns, and like the BC Liberals, the 2017 NDP program refuses to tax the rich. Without a genuine source of tax funding and without a plan to intervene into the free market, the NDP-Greens are poised to offer BC a kind of Vision Vancouver 2.0. This means zero social housing targets and no meaningful commitment to rent control. Instead, limited tax dollars will be used to subsidize landlords, homeownership grants, and private developers … By merging market and non-market housing into a single vague policy, and by relying mainly on a strategy of “supply stimulus” and tax breaks (“incentives”) for the private development industry, the NDP has in effect adopted the same policy model as Vision Vancouver.”

It is frankly terrifying to hear Horgan claim that:

“Gregor [Robertson] is speaking up for renters” … So far, Vision’s program has transferred millions of dollars to developers (well over half a billion) without achieving any minimal level of affordability.”

The NDP supports Vision’s Rental100 program even though

“Increased supply has not created affordability, and for a simple reason: developers have used tax cuts to inflate their profits, not to bring down their unregulated housing prices. What we need in BC is not deeper tax cuts for a booming market, but instead new affordable supply and actual rent control.”

The Mainlander article concludes that:

“The NDP’s housing platform is guided by their commitment to property owners’ interests. This is reflected in its refusal to support a progressive taxation system for municipalities. Currently the province enforces a flat tax system for cities, but as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has pointed out, a progressive tax on high-value properties could raise up to $1.7 billion per year in Metro Vancouver alone … As monthly evictions become the norm and thousands of properties continue to sit empty, a change of government feels more like a regime change from one party of capital to another … the NDP-Green alliance means that the “rules of the game” remain the same, with power kept in the hands of those who already have it.”

This is a valuable corrective to the rah-rah rhetoric we have heard from BC’s “left” since the election. I still want to see the BC Liberals defeated — because they are corrupt and saturated by resource fantasies; but the Mainland article reminds us that paradise is not just around the corner even if John Horgan becomes Premier this week.


Speaking In Tongues

June 23, 2017

In 1969, I had the delightful experience of working on “Kelly’s Heroes“, a fun movie. We shot it in what was then Yugoslavia and, unlike many location shoots which often last just a week or two, the crew was there for many months. During that extended time, I got to know many local families and was privileged to visit their homes. One of the things that amused me greatly was watching television with them as many of the programs were American shows dubbed into Serbo-Croatian, and they seemed so strange with foreign dialogue.

Yesterday, watching the Throne Speech from Victoria, I experienced a similar disconnect — there was a right wing Socred/Liberal government trying to speak in NDP/Green. Knowing the players involved, little of it made sense, especially as they had been saying quite opposite only a month before, cursing the very policies they were now trying to tell us they supported.

Christy Clark and her clownish crew claim that their deathbed conversion (aka, wholesale flip-flop) is due to “listening to the people.”  This not unreasonably implies that they have not been listening for the last 16 years. The fact is Christy Clark and her people are so scared of losing power — and having their shenanigans exposed — that they are happy to say that black is white and hot is cold; forgetting, of course, that the BC public are just not as stupid as they are.

Clark was also caught openly saying that her entire plan for this session was to embarrass the NDP/Green into supporting them by stealing their policies. We are lucky that both Horgan and Weaver have more backbone than that.

Clark will now sink like a stone. The big-money capitalists that have financed her lavish lifestyle for so long don’t like losers; and that is exactly what she is: a deceitful, unprincipled, lying loser. And may she quickly be forgotten.

 


Today’s the Day

June 22, 2017

The Socred-Tory-Liberals will today bring forward a Throne Speech that will contain many of the best parts of the NDP and Green platforms (and which the Socreds ran against only two months ago).

The arch-pirate Christy Clark says the opposition will be “embarrassed” to vote against her proposals. But this is a bluff that will be called, and her right-wing regime will sink beneath the waves to the joy of most.

Where the real cynicism will be evident is when Horgan introduces legislation that Clark says she supports in the Queen’s Speech, but which she and her caucus will then vote against as they have so many times before.

This whole charade is nothing but politics, treating the people of BC as if they were dumb. They are not, and they can see through the self-serving meanness of Clark’s wholesale dishonesty.

 


The BC Liberals’ Last Week In Power

June 18, 2017

On Thursday 22nd June, the newly elected and re-elected MLAs will gather in Victoria for the Queen’s Speech, formally opening the next session of the Legislature. So this is the week we will see the losers (oops, I mean the Socred/Harper Tory/BC Liberals) do whatever they can to frustrate the will of the British Columbia electorate by holding on to power for an extra day or an extra week or whatever they can finagle through their control of the rules and their crooked imagination.

In the end, it will all be for nought and they will find themselves in opposition sooner or later; but not before they have sucked even more money out of the benighted taxpayer and done whatever they can to hinder and obstruct the legitimate government of the Province. It will be excellent if the NDP/Green coalition can find some procedural way of shortening this expensive, anti-democratic, and almost criminal behaviour but, within a week at most, Clark will be out on her ear and the clean up of their gross mess will be able to begin.

Once the gravy train disappears, I suspect it will not be long before a number of Socreds (some very high profile) will decide they can do better in private life and quit parliament. Victories in these by-elections will rapidly fill out the slim majority of the coalition and secure their four-year term. In the meantime, a coalition Speaker will ensure that progressive legislation gets passed whenever votes are tied, and Socred votes against highly popular bills (on LNG, Kinder Morgan, MSP premiums, education budgets, campaign financing, Residential Tenancy Act reforms, and the like) will be duly noted and stored for use against them in the next general election.

This will be a week to remember, and I ‘m looking forward to it.


The BC Election — Shame About the Greens

May 6, 2017

In my earlier post about the election, I suggested that an NDP-Green coalition would be the best outcome. I have changed my mind, having lost all confidence in the integrity of the BC Green Party and most especially in their leader.

Weaver and his party are perfectly correct in their desire to see climate change dealt with as a priority. No problem there and I applaud their efforts (though their curt dismissal of the Leap Manifesto shows them to be as MOR as the others in essence). But in most other policies and attitudes, Weaver has shown himself to be an old-time Tory — and that isn’t good for any of us.

The BC Greens’ candidates are uniformly white and heavily male; not a single person of colour or of FN descent is included. Their apologists say they have had “diverse” candidates before; so why not now?  Either none applied (which begs the question), or none were accepted (which begs further questions).  Apparently it is OK for BC Green candidates to be a gun lobbyist or a lover of young “bitchez” or a conspiracy theorist — but not someone of colour. That is very troubling.

Weaver himself has mumbled and fumbled and made stuff up, so much so that he appears to be Trump-like in his confusion about the facts. And, of course, both he and his deputy have said they would be happy enough to see Christy Clark and her corruption back in office rather than those evil leftwingers in the NDP.

No, I am sad to say that the Greens just won’t cut it in this election with those policies and with that leadership.

Clearly, for all our sakes and for the future of our wonderful province, the BC Liberals (Socreds and Tories by any other name) must be sent packing. That means an NDP government for there are no other realistic choices today. There will be much I will not support when the NDP controls the Provincial Government, but I know my dissatisfactions will be minor compared to the disaster another Liberal term will bring.

I urge all my readers to take a look at the Your Political Party. Clearly they won’t go far this time, but they have good ideas for honest democracy and I hope they can build themselves into something useful in the future.


GW All-Candidates’ Meeting

May 2, 2017

Last night I attended the joint all-candidates’ meeting for the provincial ridings of Vancouver -Mount Pleasant and Vancouver-Hastings (Commercial Drive is a dividing line between the two ridings). It was well-attended in Britannia Gym D and well-arranged by Britannia Community Services, GWAC, the Kettle, and others.  Several hundred people were there, enjoying the good free food (bean soup and salad) and a warm sense of community, which contrasted strongly with a similar event four years ago when we had an essentially empty auditorium.

So far as I could tell, all the candidates from both ridings showed up, including the Liberals which has not been the case in other ridings that have been reported. The format was a World Cafe style forum. Every candidate in turn was given three minutes to make their pitch, one from Mount Pleasant, then one from Hastings. When that was done, each candidate circulated among residents’ tables to have a more in depth chat, every group of voters getting to spend some time with each candidate. It’s a decent format for these kind of events.

Both these ridings are very safe NDP strongholds, and I doubt the result here on 9th May will surprise anyone, and I doubt last night’s event changed any minds. But it is good to hear the lesser-known candidates give their pitch.

I have to say that David Kroll (Green, Mount Pleasant) came across as a snake oil salesman (a bit like Weaver himself), while the two young Liberals, Connie Lin (Mount Pleasant) and Jane Spitz, presented as high-schoolers thrown in to make up the numbers. The two communists, including Peter Marcuse who seems to have run in every election since I was born, gave voice to their long-term dreams of a socialist paradise, while a couple of independents gave less lucid arguments for why they should be chosen.

Shane Simpson (NDP, Hastings), our long-time incumbent and firm favourite to retain the riding, stuck firmly to the Horgan speaking lines of affordability, stable jobs, and fixing the services the Liberals have broken.

Melanie Mark, the NDP candidate for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant — with whom I have had my differences in the past — came across as the real leader she could be. She is a strong woman, from a challenged background, she has worked both on the streets and in the halls of the Victoria bureaucracy, she speaks well and with great passion.  I couldn’t help thinking she will be the leader of the party after Horgan has had his turn (win or lose this election).

When I left the hall, I sat outside in the Napier Greenway listening to the Carnival Band conducting their usual Monday night practice.  This is a grand place, Grandview-Woodland.