Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone. (Facebook)

B.C. Liberals battle party subsidy, some more gingerly than others

Todd Stone pushes leadership candidates to just say no

On the eve of his own run for the leadership, Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone is staking out a position that his B.C. Liberal rivals aren’t yet prepared to take.

Stone posted a video on his Facebook page on the weekend, hinting that he aims to replace his long-time friend Christy Clark and challenging his rivals to rule out accepting the $2.50-per-vote payment that the NDP government wants to bring in next year.

If passed in the current legislature session, the bill to ban corporate and union donations would trigger payments from the provincial treasury of about $7 million each to the B.C. Liberals and the NDP over the next four years. The NDP bill would add another $4 million each on top of that to refund half of each party’s election-year expenses.

The B.C. Green Party would collect a smaller amount, based on total votes received in the 2017 election, and leader Andrew Weaver says he will support the subsidy that neither he nor Premier John Horgan campaigned on.

“Under my leadership, the B.C. Liberal Party will not accept taxpayer subsidies as proposed by the NDP, Stone said. “Political parties should be expected to stand on their own and be supported financially by those who want to support them, not by taxpayers.”

Other B.C. Liberal leadership hopefuls emphatically agree with the second part. But pressed repeatedly in interviews this week, declared candidates Mike Bernier, Andrew Wilkinson and Mike de Jong stuck to the party line, as did outsider Conservative MP Dianne Watts. Job one is to stop the program for all parties, by convincing the B.C. Greens to support an amendment that would drop the public subsidy and allow only individual donations.

“The junior partner in the government, Mr. Weaver and the Green Party, have indicated a willingness to consider an amendment, so that’s our first line of attack on it,” de Jong said.

“The main focus is to just make sure it doesn’t pass in the house, and then this whole discussion about whether we accept it or not will be a moot point,” said Bernier.

That caucus solidarity was first broken by Penticton MLA Dan Ashton, who paid for his own by-election after moving from the mayor’s office to MLA in 2013, and ruled out taking a public subsidy before Stone did.

At his campaign launch this week, Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson refused to rule out taking the money. He also defended the provincial tax credit for voluntary donations, noting they return 75 per cent only for the first $100 donations. That drops to 50 per cent for up to a $550 donation, 33 per cent for donations of more than $550, with a tax credit cap of $500 that means donations above $1,100 receive no credit.

The tax credit is designed to “encourage small-scale participation,” Wilkinson said. “An individual still has to put money out of their own pocket” in a system he says has worked well across Canada.

“What I don’t like is having everybody in this room told that they have to put $100 on the table, and the NDP are going to take $45 of it and the Green Party are going to take another $10.”

What Wilkinson left unsaid is that the remaining $45 would go to the B.C. Liberal Party, in fact slightly more than the NDP because the B.C. Liberals won the popular vote by a slim margin.

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