Op/Ed: ARE WE CONDONING CORRUPTION?
Editorial Note: In the column below, Dermod Travis points out many instances of close correlation between large donations by corporations to the Liberal Party of BC and lucrative contracts awarded to those corporations. Now, as any scientist will tell us, correlation is not proof of causation — but it’s a good reason to investigate further.
Are corporations buying patronage with their donations and lobbying? Is that corruption, and if so, how much do voters care? Should there be legislation prohibiting corporate donations to political parties and politicians, and limiting donations by individual persons? Doing away with the ability to donate large amounts of money to poitical parties and politicians would at least remove the appearance of bias and favoritism (or we can just call it corruption) based on such donations.
Another article questioning the integrity of the BC Liberal Party appears here, on the basis of their persistent denial of the e-mail deletion practice and their treatment of the whistleblower.
Dermod Travis writes:
News this month that the Interior Health Authority had reached a 20-year agreement to outsource laundry services to Ecotex Healthcare Linen Service is the latest in a long string of odd coincidences involving companies that donate to the B.C. Liberal party and companies that do well by the B.C. government.
Ecotex has donated more than $125,000 to the B.C. Liberals, since 2005.
Its billings to the Fraser Health Authority – where it has a similar contract – have risen from $5.44 million in 2007 to $7.7 million in 2015, an increase of 41.6 per cent.
Truth be told similar coincidences have been happening between campaign contributors and political parties since time immemorial, but the B.C. government may have refined it to an art form.
Maximum political benefit, minimal political blowback.
Just thumb through the party’s 2009 donor list for a sense of how widespread the practice of awarding contracts to friends has become.
Back then, someone must have woke up on New Year’s Day with one hell of a hangover – not from the night before – but from the bank balance in the B.C. Liberal party’s account.
According to the party’s audited financial statements, it had $826,594 in cash. It also had $1.26 million in accounts payable.
A far cry from where it was in 2005, when the party boasted $2.9 million in cash and $487,470 in accounts payable.
Not the best of times to raise bucks either. B.C. was in the midst of the recession.
The start of the 2009 campaign was weeks away, so the party hit up its close friends first and friends-to-be next.
In three months, it raised $5.2 million, more than they had pulled-in for all of 2006.
Who came to the rescue?
On February 18, the party reported 240 donations totalling $827,178, including 36 cheques – each in the amount of $5,000 – from 30 companies and four individuals.
At the time, Partnerships B.C. (PBC) was in the short-list phase on four public infrastructure projects valued at $4.45 billion, among them the South Fraser Perimeter Road and the Port Mann bridge
Eleven of the 30 companies stood to benefit through the proponents short-listed on those projects.
In a remarkable coincidence, all 11 won. They included Kiewit, Flatiron, Ledcor, PCL Constructors and Plenary Group.
Of the 19 companies that walked away empty-handed from all four deals, only two made donations over a 10-year period, totalling $3,050.
Two of the 30 companies – French-based construction firm Bouygues and Kasian Architecture – were part of a partnership shortlisted to build the new RCMP “E” Division headquarters in Surrey.
PBC had been hired as a P3 advisor in the early stages of that project.
Seven of the companies were on BC Hydro’s shortlist for independent energy purchase agreements. Four won.
Of the three that didn’t, one was in the midst of an environmental assessment. Their certificate came through ten months later.
The other two stopped donating within months.
SNC-Lavalin – another of the $5,000 donors – was finishing off the Canada Line and would go on to win the contract for the Evergreen Line.
The 16 successful companies donated $343,188 to the Liberals in 2009.
There were other contributors.
Between January 1 and March 31, the party received 2,173 donations, including 932 cheques for a $1,000 or more, totalling $4.7 million.
They didn’t come from 932 unique donors, however. And when all the cheques are assigned to the right donor, some were quite generous.
Seventeen companies gave a total of $1.7 million, more than a third of the $4.7 million haul.
Onni Contracting wrote out the largest cheque ($150,000), but it wasn’t the largest contributor. That honour goes to Teck Resources ($231,139).
One vaulted from 57th place to third, when donations from 20 of his other companies are added in, for a grand total of $139,500.
There were MLAs on the list: Dr. Moira Stilwell gave $1,200 and John Yap $1,000, but much of it reads like a government procurement directory: KPMG ($8,500), Bombardier ($1,000), CN Rail ($3,500), Seaspan ($4,700) and Imperial Parking ($1,800).
Other names read like a who’s who of those hoping for a friendly ear.
Hassan Khosrowshahi of Burke Mountain fame donated $24,500, the B.C. Lions ($3,500), Northern Gateway Pipelines ($11,500) and lobbyist Patrick Kinsella ($4,900).
Three provincial environment assessments were underway at the time.
Naikun Wind Development ($5,700) had its assessment approved by December 2009.
Certificates for Encana’s ($104,500) Cabin Gas Plant project and Belkorp’s ($3,000) Cache Creek landfill extension project came through a month later.
(Unless otherwise noted, all figures in parentheses are for the first quarter of 2009.)
Who’s missing from the list? Unhappy campers.
The party wears the coincidences proudly, though.
At a November 2013 Rich Coleman fundraising event, the banner summed it up: “We won. It’s Christmas every day.”
Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC. www.integritybc.ca