VICTORIA - Premier Christy Clark will still be in a conflict of interest even though she's rejected her party's annual stipend, suggests a group that's been critical of political fundraising in British Columbia.
Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch says Clark will still get the party's money because she's requested her stipend be replaced with a system where she will be reimbursed by the Liberal party for her expenses.
But Conacher says the money will still be coming from donors who have paid to attend Liberal events and rub shoulders with the premier.
"It does nothing to stop the unethical, undemocratic influence of big money in B.C. politics," Conacher said Saturday from Ottawa.
He said it could end up that Clark still gets $50,000 — the equivalent of her stipend.
Clark announced her decision to discontinue the payment when she attended an unrelated announcement on Friday. She denied the move was related to a recent New York Times article that was critical of party fundraising in B.C. and also rejected the suggestion the timing was connected to the upcoming provincial election in May.
Rather, Clark said the stipend had become a "distraction" and that she would ask other party leaders in the province to accept a system where they would be reimbursed for party fundraising expenses.
Liberals confirmed last spring that Clark is paid up to $50,000 per year for party work on top of her $195,000 salary.
NDP Opposition Leader John Horgan said Clark may only see the stipend as a distraction, but the public sees it as a conflict.
"After six years of taking money for fundraising, to say just before the election that we're not going to do it anymore, I think it speaks to an issue that's going to be dogging the issue up to election day," Horgan said.
Democracy Watch, as well as an opposition member of the legislature, filed conflict-of-interest complaints over the stipend and fundraisers, where tickets are sold for thousands of dollars.
Conacher, who is the group's co-founder, said other provinces have adopted systems to remove big money from politics, which include donor limits and public funding.
Other parties in B.C., he said, have called for bans on corporate and union donations, as well as individual donation limits.
"It's only the Liberals that are blocking real, meaningful change and instead are doing these small baby steps trying to appease voters," Conacher said.
Clark said Friday that neither public nor private funding systems for parties are perfect, but that favouring private donations was preferable.
"I believe most taxpayers would say if they want to give to a political party, they don't want to be forced to do it. They want to choose to do it, and they want to be able to choose which party to whom they would donate," Clark said.
The B.C. Liberal Party also announced it will begin posting its political donations in real time.
Hamish Telford, an associate professor of political science at University of the Fraser Valley, said the issue of campaign financing hasn't caught on in B.C. quite the same way it has recently for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, or in other provinces.
Telford said Clark's decision to nip the issue in the bud and remove the stipend, which is directly connected to her, might put her in the clear in May's election.
"The one thing that could have upset people as we head into the election is the premier making a 25 per cent bonus over and above her regular salary. That could sort of gnaw at people and she's eliminated that," Telford said.
—by Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton