Liberal MLA Dan Ashton, having already assured his own seat in Legislature, watches a tight provincial race on election night in Penticton’s Boston Pizza on May 8. Steve Kidd/Western News

Ashton says he’ll deny public election funding

An election finance reform bill this week has included public subsidies for election campaigns

Amid a controversy over a broken B.C. NDP promise not to publicly fund election campaigns, Penticton MLA Dan Ashton is promising not to make use of that funding.

Despite a promise during the election campaign not to add public funds to party coffers for election campaigns, as the NDP campaigned on limiting political donations, the now-governing party introduced campaign finance reforms this week which included public funding for election campaigns.

Among the other facets of the bill, corporate and union donations have been banned, while personal donations have been capped at $1,200 per year — well below the $5,000 cap the B.C. Liberal party suggested in its own bill last week.

Related: NDP caps party donations at $1,200 per person

“I’m vehemently opposed to having public dollars spent on supporting political entities,” Ashton said. “You have to stand on your own two feet as a party, and how you do that is through donations and people of like minds. You don’t go into the public purse and take money out of their pockets.”

On top of the $16-million subsidy, taxpayers would also foot the bill of a 50-per-cent reimbursement of election expenses, according to a section of the bill. All in all, Ashton said elections could cost B.C. taxpayers and nearly $30 million more.

The second-term MLA took to Twitter Monday to vent his concerns, including a vow not to take subsidies for his own campaign — a vow that has not been mirrored, so far, by the remainder of his party. He didn’t say whether that would extend to election spending rebates.

“I personally think it’s wrong, and I personally am not going to accept any of that,” he said, adding taxpayers already subsidize political donations through a tax credit. “I always pay my own way, and I think people who want to hold the position have an opportunity already to solicit donations.

“And contrary to what some people think, those donations have never, ever influenced me in any direction.”

If he holds onto that promise, Ashton will need to finance his next election on donations alone, at a rate of just $1,200 per person per year. Based on this year’s election, about a third of Ashton’s donors would be cut short of donating their full amount.

Of 39 donors in 2017, 14 donated more than $1,200, while just one donated more than $5,000 (Barefoot Beach Resort donated $7,000), totalling $22,585.48 in excess donations. That makes an average of $1,613.25 over the limit among the 14 donors.

Related: Greens didn’t demand party subsidy, Andrew Weaver says

That’s far higher than his 2013 campaign, which saw just six of 43 donors donating more than $1,200, with Siva Construction Ltd. offering up nearly a quarter of his total donations, at $10,000 (the same company donated $4,000 this election).

Comparatively, of 15 contributions to Ashton’s NDP rival Tarik Sayeed, just three went over the proposed $1,200 limit, with one going above the $5,000 mark. That $5,970 contribution came in the form of in-kind rent from JNA Investments.

Ashton pushed back against the notion that it takes money to raise money, and that those who have some money have an advantage.

“It depends on, number one, the party and the policies you put forward, and it depends on the candidate,” Ashton said. “It depends on your ethics, your political direction that you follow and the policies that you believe in.”

Related: B.C.’s big money battle isn’t over yet

He also took aim at the bill more generally, adding the Liberals put forward a “very good” bill limiting donations in the spring, which was reintroduced just a week ago.

“There was extenuating limitations on it about who you can utilize, how you can utilize it, who you can get money from, et cetera,” Ashton said. “If we’re going to change the direction of fundraising for political parties in this province, then let’s do it properly.”

In particular, he said the NDP bill didn’t do enough to limit how out-of-province resources are utilized, noting people from Ontario working on Sayeed’s campaign.

“This bill looks like it will also limit the opportunity of other parties to get going,” he said, though he didn’t elaborate on how.

The public election funding, however, is on a per-vote basis, at $2.50 per vote next year, diminishing to $2.25 per vote in 2019, $2 in 2020 and $1.75 in 2021 and 2022.

Related: Dan Ashton named Indigenous relations critic


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