COLUMN: Few can afford the price of democracy

We need policies that benefit the majority of British Columbians, not just a small number of wealthy individuals and corporations.

We need to stop putting a price tag on our democracy. Corporate donations in the millions of dollars are being pumped into our political system.

We need policies that are for the benefit of the majority of British Columbians, not just a small number of wealthy individuals and corporations.

Yet the provincial government has failed to act on limiting or banning such donations, despite the fact that reforms have been made in other provinces.

Most recently it came to light that 10 individuals paid $10,000 each to attend a dinner fundraiser to meet with Premier Christy Clark. At the federal level, a $500-per-person fundraiser for the Liberal party was organized by a large law firm, where the Attorney General of Canada was the speaker.

To remain impartial and prevent any conflict of interest, our elected officials should not attend such fundraisers being used to fill party coffers.

The premier has stated she does not know how much anyone has paid to meet her. Her spokesman said that Clark “meets with and hears from British Columbians from all parts of our province.”

Clark is also receiving a salary top-up from her party. It seems unlikely that the premier would not know that an exclusive dinner with only 10 people, likely from the corporate world, would not have paid top dollar to attend a dinner with her.

Furthermore, while the premier might meet with many different people, her policies have often made the rich richer, while inadequately addressing the needs of  average British Columbians, such as housing affordability, poverty reduction and child care.

Disclosing who the donation is coming from in real-time contributes to transparency, but it does not do enough to address underlying issues. We need a strict limit or ban on such corporate donations and limits on individual donations. Our elections should also be about policies, and not just about who has the largest marketing budget.

We are living in a province where thousands struggle to make ends meet, despite working hard to provide for their families. On the other hand, we have individuals who are paying $10,000 or more for exclusive dinners with the premier.

If the conversations that occur at these dinners are truly in the interest of British Columbians, maybe it’s time to publicize this information and speak about it openly.

It seems unlikely that the discussions at these private meetings are about income inequality, about raising the minimum wage or helping thousands of people who are homeless.

A few unelected insiders and business executives should not be running the show from behind the scenes. We need to put a stop to a VIP and elite culture where only a select group of people are able to access and mainly contribute to the political conversation.

In addition to limiting or banning donations at the provincial level, reform also needs to be made at the municipal level. Vancouver city council recently passed a motion to put this question to a referendum in the upcoming provincial election. Surrey council should pass a similar motion.

Japreet Lehal is a Simon Fraser University graduate pursing a law degree.


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