Saskatchewan: The Wild West of political party donations

Saskatchewan: The Wild West of political party donationsToronto – November 14, 2016 – Across Canada, more and more voters are asking questions about the access and influence that big money donors enjoy with the politicians who they support. The perception of being bought and the appearances of conflicts of interest are forcing some politicians to reluctantly look at changing the rules for donations to political parties and candidates.

For example, after investigative reports revealed the high number of donations that the Ontario government had collected from corporate CEOs and others to attend intimate and expensive gatherings with the Premier and influential cabinet ministers, the government was forced to act on this issue.

Now Saskatchewan is in the headlines after being exposed as Canada’s Wild West for political donations.  The governing Saskatchewan Party continues to allow corporate and union donations and has happily collected millions of dollars from corporate Saskatchewan, as well as money from out-of-province corporations. As one example, the SaskParty has received over $2 million in donations from the oil and gas industry in Alberta since the election of an NDP government in that province. Some are even wondering whether this development is a deliberate attempt at circumventing Alberta’s new tough election financing laws – enacted by the NDP – with the knowledge that Wall’s attacks would be well covered by the Alberta media.

Brad Wall has said that there are no plans to change Saskatchewan’s donation rules, even though polling has shown that 69 percent of Saskatchewan residents want to see out-of-province donations banned. But it’s not just corporations that have felt the need to donate to the SaskParty. Since 2006, the party has accepted thousands of dollars in donations from crown corporations, municipalities, school boards, universities, and registered charities. The fact that these organizations feel the need to donate to the governing party to be heard is frightening. It also means that publicly financed institutions are funneling taxpayer’s money back to a political party.

In the last days of the Conservative regime in Alberta, the Progressive Conservatives were found to be illegally accepting donations from publically-funded organizations like school boards. They were then forced to pay that money back. But that hasn’t deterred the SaskParty from receiving similar donations.

The actions of the Saskatchewan government are a stark contrast to their neighbors in Alberta. A long time ago, Alberta banned out-of-province donations to political parties, and this is the law in almost every other jurisdiction in the country as well. One of the first acts of the new Alberta NDP government was to ban corporate and union donations, and the party also lowered individual contribution limits in order to reduce the influence of big money donors.

It is time for Saskatchewan to catch up with the rest of the country by banning charities and publically-funded institutions from donating to political parties, and outlawing corporate and union donations to parties. The Saskatchewan government should also lower individual contribution limits so that ‘big money’ does not have influence over the province’s political decision makers.