Taking Money out of Politics
By: Ryan Young
When Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch raised the alarm last week on Newfoundland and Labradors political finance laws, most people in the province simply rolled their eyes. Political corruption and backscratching was so ingrained in the political culture here for so long that people take for granted that it’s just the way things work around here.
It’s no secret that in the golden days of Confederation, lucrative government contracts were reserved for those who supported the government and made regular campaign contributions. Things were so bad under Smallwood that some business owners would not even do business with someone if they were known to be a Tory. Certainly, there are many more safeguards in place these days, such as public tendering, to ensure these things no longer happen, but with the giant shadow of Muskrat Falls hanging over us all, people can’t help but wonder how much favor might have been curried for those Nalcor contracts that never had to go through the tender process.
Conacher went so far as to call our current system “legalized bribery.” Those are strong words, but it can’t be denied that we have the most relaxed rules in the country when it comes to the way we finance politics. There are currently no limits on who can donate to a party or how much they give. In the wake of the federal government announcing new rules for private “cash for access” fundraising events, Democracy Watch thinks that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador should be more concerned about their own system.
"What everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador should realize is the system is the scandal, and the system is corrupt," said Conacher.
"You may not see a particular scandal where you will be able to connect a donation exactly to the handing out of the contract, but overall that system is corrupting decision making."
Premier Dwight Ball has a different view. He is satisfied with the way things are currently done because the donations are publicly posted for everyone to see, even if those reports are often a year or two behind schedule before they are published. Ball insists that he does not look at the Liberal donation list when making government decisions. Of course, when he was running for leader of the Liberal party, Ball was a supporter of reform and wanted caps on political donations. Now that he has the power to make the changes, he seems to have lost the appetite. It is not hard to see why so many people are cynical and find it so easy to believe that the whole system is corrupt.
Independent MHA, Paul Lane, began calling on the government last summer to implement a number of democratic reforms, including campaign finance reform. He insists that far too much money is spent on marketing candidates and that the amount of money a candidate can spend should be greatly reduced. In light of the recent revelations by Democracy Watch, Lane told Pete Soucy on VOCM that he will continue to advocate for reform as we move towards the next election.
Democracy Watch has called for a ban on corporate and union donations and a limit of $100 per individual donation, similar to the rules in the province of Quebec. While some may argue that $100 is too low for a small province like Newfoundland and Labrador, the individual amount is not nearly as important as the removal of corporate and union donations. I wouldn’t hold my breath on the government making any meaningful change in their current mandate, but I have a feeling it will end up as an election issue in 2019, whether the Liberals want it to be or not.