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5 Reasons to Give a Shit About the B.C. Election

Provincial politics. There, I said them — two of the most boring words in the English language.

There’s no denying it. Provincial elections fail to capture the imaginations of citizens the way national or even international elections do.

Case in point: in the last B.C. provincial election, just 55 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot — 13 per cent fewer than voted in the last federal election.

I get it: most of us are just trying to pay the bills, put dinner on the table and make sure the kids get to soccer practice. There’s not exactly a whole lot of time (or energy) left to monitor several different levels of politics.

Yet Canadians have been captivated by the train wreck that’s been unfolding south of the border for the last six months — even though there ain’t much we can do about another country’s state of affairs.

So if you give a shit about the state of the world, now’s as good a time as any to focus on what you can change. If you’re a British Columbian, you’ve got a golden opportunity to make your mark in just one week from today.

In Canada, the provinces are responsible for managing things like health care, education, housing and natural resources — so, snooze-worthy or not, provincial politics have a major influence over our day-to-day lives.

Here are our Top 5 reasons to give a shit about the B.C. election.

1) Because It’s a Referendum on Big Money in Politics

When the New York Times devotes an entire article to how corrupt your province’s politics have become, calling it the ‘wild west’ of political cash, it’s time to sit up and pay attention.

Here are the facts: unlike many other provinces, B.C. has no limits on political donations. Anyone, including foreigners and foreign companies, can give as much moola as they want to political parties in our province.

A Globe and Mail investigation this spring found lobbyists breaking one of the few rules B.C. has in place by donating to the B.C. Liberals under their own names, while being reimbursed by companies, thus concealing the true source of the money.

An RCMP investigation is now underway into the practice. Meanwhile, the B.C. Liberals (who are not affiliated with the federal Liberal party and are actually strongly aligned with the federal Conservative party) announced they would return $93,000 in prohibited donations.

Thanks to these lax laws, the Liberals raised $12.6 million in 2016 — more than any other provincial party in power. The B.C. NDP meanwhile raised $6.2 million in 2016.

Despite the fact 86 per cent of British Columbians want to see big money banned from politics, the Liberals have defeated six NDP bills to ban big money in politics.

When asked during the televised leaders’ debate about how she’d regain British Columbians’ trust after the donations scandal, Clark said: “I think the thing that matters most to British Columbians is jobs.”

If corruption matters to you, this is your chance to get big money out of politics.  Both the NDP and the Greens have promised to ban corporate and union donations if elected.

2) Two Words: ‘Legalized Bribery’

In a system that’s been called ‘legalized bribery,’ Premier Christy Clark has been receiving an annual stipend of up to $50,000 from her party, financed by political contributions. This is in addition to her $195,000 a year salary paid for by taxpayers.

“No elected official in the U.S. is allowed to get a stipend; that would be bribery,” said Dan Levin, a New York Times reporter covering Canada. “I lived in China for seven-and-a-half years; in China or Russia this would just be called ‘corruption’ or ‘nepotism.’ But here, it’s just ‘legal.’ ”

That salary top-up led two groups to file a court challenge to overturn the government’s decision on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline due to alleged conflicts of interest between the premier and project proponents, who have given $560,000 in political contributions over six years to the Liberal party.

A week after the New York Times turned its glaring spotlight on B.C., Clark finally announced she’ll stop the controversial salary top-up. But the B.C. Liberals still haven’t made any commitment to get big money out of politics.

While Clark has been raking in close to $250,000 a year, during the 16-year tenure of the B.C. Liberals, the cost of living for ordinary British Columbians has skyrocketed — from housing and child care to health care premiums, Hydro bills and ICBC rates.

Entire campaigns have popped up to stop the squeeze on younger British Columbians and fight for $10 a day childcare. If the ability for working class people to get by matters to you, cast a ballot, mmmmkay?

3) Because The Largest Mining Disaster in Canadian History Went Unpunished

When a dam broke at the Mount Polley mine in August 2014, it unleashed a four-square-kilometre lake full of mining waste into Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake, a source of drinking water and major spawning grounds for sockeye salmon.

You might be thinking: that sounds really shitty, but surely it’s not the government’s fault?

Oh how we wish that were the case. But a two-year investigation by B.C.’s auditor general found that compliance and enforcement expectations were not met after a “decade of neglect.”

The report said that to reduce the risk of “unfortunate and preventable incidents like Mount Polley,”compliance and enforcement should be separated from the Ministry of Energy and Mines Ministry because the ministry’s role to promote mining development creates an “irreconcilable conflict.”

But guess what? The government ignored that recommendation and continues business as usual. In fact, the government approved another mine with a massive tailings pond just like the one at Mount Polley, even though an expert panel said to stop doing that. Alaskans downstream are so worried about their salmon rivers that they’re practically begging the B.C. government to get its shit together.

Meanwhile, Mount Polley and its parent company Imperial Metals got off without a single fine or criminal charge for the largest mining accident in Canadian history.

To add insult to injury, British Columbians have been left on the hook for millions of dollars of clean-up bills for the Mount Polley spill.

And now, just days before the writ dropped, the B.C. government approved a permit for Mount Polley to discharge mining waste directly into Quesnel Lake. Seriously.

You’d almost think there was some corruption at play or something.

P.S. Mount Polley and its parent company Imperial Metals have donated more than $200,000 to the B.C. Liberals since 2005.

4) Because We’re Still Killing Grizzly Bears for Trophies

Since we’re on the topic of totally screwed up things that B.C. allows because of unlimited political donations, let’s talk about grizzly bears. About 300 of them will be killed this year so that hunters can hang their heads on the wall at home.

Many grizzlies will be killed in B.C.’s provincial parks and protected areas. Many will be females. This will happen despite the fact 90 per cent of British Columbians want to see trophy hunting banned.

Trophy hunters

Photo: Dogwood

Why? Money talks yet again.

Guide outfitters — who can earn as much as $20,000 for helping a foreign hunter bag a grizzly bear — have donated nearly $62,000 to the B.C. Liberals since 2005.

Fun fact: a 2012 study by Stanford University in conjunction with the Center for Responsible Travel found that bear viewing groups in the Great Bear Rainforest generated more than 12 times more in visitor spending than bear hunting.

Most recently, wealthy hunting society Safari Club International donated $60,000 to the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C., bragging in a since-removed Facebook post about “working … to prevent the NDP from getting elected.”

The NDP have vowed to end the trophy hunt, as have the Green Party.

Safari Club International spent nearly a million dollars lobbying in the U.S. last year, including on legislation related to species such as elephants, wolves and polar bears. Handy fact: One of their members was responsible for killing Cecil the Lion.

Ahem, did we mention this is your chance to get big money out of politics?

5) Because We’re Losing Our Place in the World

There was a while there when B.C. was praised for being a leader in tackling climate change, while maintaining one of the strongest economies in Canada. That time is over.

A recent L.A. Times piece focused on B.C.’s new “embrace of fossil fuels.”

“Now, however, Canada’s West Coast is striving toward a very different kind of cutting edge: British Columbia is positioning itself to become a global leader in exporting fossil fuels, with plans to nearly triple crude oil exports through a controversial new pipeline and vastly expand production of liquefied natural gas to be sold in Asia,” read a recent piece in the Los Angeles Times.

Premier Christy Clark has been a big pusher of any and all fossil fuel development, including a stunning about-face on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil pipeline. Meanwhile, she decided to ignore the recommendations of her expert panel on climate change.

It’s gotten so bad that even former B.C. Liberal premier Gordon Campbell —who’s given precious few interviews — had some choice words for B.C. in the Los Angeles Times article.

“They still say that they take pride in having a revenue-neutral carbon tax,” Campbell said. “If you do, then what are the next steps you take? The journey’s not done. We started it with some good, strong policies that I would have liked to see carry on. But it’s up to the current elected leaders. There are leaders and there are followers.”

Even if climate change isn’t No. 1 on your priority list, chances are you don’t want B.C. to become a laggard on the global climate file just as the world accelerates toward a clean energy economy.

This no-holds-barred approach to natural resources has antagonized B.C.’s First Nations, who are calling on their friends and allies to vote for anyone but Clark.

“The Clark government has virtually neglected the people of British Columbia in her obsessive pursuit of large-scale resource development projects,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip at a press conference this week.

Grievances include the B.C. Liberals’ continued musings about LNG, even though the market appears to be dead, and their bull-headed approach to the Site C dam, which Phillip described as a “sleazy, political make-work project to shore up the failings B.C. Jobs program.”

Why is Clark so enthusiastic about fossil fuel exports? It could have something to do with the 22,000 meetings her government has had with fossil fuel lobbyists since 2010. Or with the roughly $4 million in donations her party has received from oil and gas companies since 2008. Just sayin’.

Emma Gilchrist is a reporter, editor, public speaker and spreadsheet-keeper. She started her journalism career more than 15 years ago…

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