The best democracy money can buy

How BC’s election was bought

by Joseph Roberts


• In the initial news reports about Alberta’s worst flooding in history, a number of government spokespeople noted it was “the worst but not the first” and that “it could have been much worse,” waxing on how resourceful Albertans were. In downtown Calgary, the energy capital was underwater and without power yet no one spoke the unspeakable: “climate change.” It was ironic that the climate change denying spin-doctors couldn’t go downtown because the “weird weather” had drowned their offices. And just what is contributing to the change in the weather? Did anyone mention “Kalgary’s Katrina?” Harper’s PMO immediately stated it would stop collateral damage by reinforcing the PR dikes surrounding the Tar Sands and pipeline plans. As usual, “controlling the message” and organizing “talking points” to stay on message, chanting, “It could have been much worse, it could have been much worse.” Well, if the current path of massively increasing Tar Sands exploitation continues unabated, it will get worse.

Next door in BC, there was a different kind of flood. It contributed to “the best democracy money can buy.”

BC is politically unique in many ways, perhaps because it’s the most westerly province and it was the last to be colonized. And BC has special, lenient campaign financing rules that result in surprisingly undemocratic election results. After the election, the completely mistaken political pundits back-pedalled furiously. They had quoted survey results that showed huge leads by the NDP of 20 to 28%, a lead that some had described as “unbeatable.” Excuses for their blundering projections were tossed out to repair the reputation of media election specialists and of course, these experts deflected blame to the leaders, the voters and the pollsters. Theories then emerged, such as the NDP voters were complacent and didn’t vote because they believed the NDP had a massive lead. Or Adrian Dix’s image lacked the obsequious media charisma of Christy Clark. Or my favourite, “The polls were wrong.” It’s akin to a line spoken in Canada Place at the doomed NDP victory gala where a woman comforted her distraught friend, saying, “Forget it and have a beer.” The election game was a gas over at the Wall Centre where the Liberals hosted their just-dodged-the-bullet celebration. Actually, the polls were right, but the influx of big money changed the numbers really fast.

Well folks, if the election did not work out the way you planned it, it was because you did not plan it. It was planned, financed and executed professionally by those in power and that power was not people power but rather money power: floods of money coupled with brilliant political operatives and massive TV advertising. Millions of dollars came from interests outside of BC and even outside of Canada, from the rich and powerful that wanted it their way. Whether they lived here or not was irrelevant; they could still affect the outcome with their cash.

But before going into the details of “who dun it?” let’s see how it was “legally” possible.

British Columbia is one of the only provinces in Canada that allows election campaign financing from out of province. So if a special interest group of petroleum producers calls a meeting in Alberta with 130 rich corporate buddies invested in oil exploration, extraction, pipelining, refining, selling or financing and these folks are asked to protect their assets and profits by donating to ensure they get a cheerleader premier in BC, well, from their perspective, it’s not a conspiracy; it’s just damn good business. Not really democratic, but they will make the sacrifice to get what they want. It’s like politicians willing to send other parents’ children to war in order to secure access to petroleum resources in other countries. For these financial backers, BC is another land.

And there is also the item of campaign funding coming from out of country. Yes, you heard that right. BC allows election campaign funding from outside of Canada! And in seemingly unbridled, liberal amounts. Money influences election results because money buys votes. For more facts on campaign financing scams and how to make elections more democratic, visit

So money can come from Norway to defend its lice and disease ridden fish farms or from China for coal exports. American and European bankers finance the further debt BC will descend into paying for the infrastructure, which can be later privatized and sold cheap to the inner circle after the public has been taxed. Odd how a former director of BC Rail who was around when it got sold, found a million or more dollars for Dix TV attack ads. You might have seen the one with the weather vane flip-flopping or the nasty piece about forging a signature. Well-planned and well-executed high-profile television ad campaigning. His nice sounding group, Citizens Concerned About BC, seemed to fold after the votes were cast. Do they still care? Or was it just a proxy prop throwing up dirt? Since the deed is done, maybe they are ”moving forward” with other agendas. Is BC Hydro the next in line for privatization?

Then there was Dix’s really unnecessary and unskilful Earth Day pronouncement regarding the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Did he know just who he was up against? This pipeline has curious backers. Richard Kinder (the Kinder of the two) came to fame previously with Enron. (Please watch the movie, Enron the Smartest Guys in the Room, for details.) Richard Kinder was also a huge fundraiser for George Bush Jr.’s campaign. Oil finds its own level. Richard was also involved in the purchase with Duke Energy of the then “not-to-be-sold” public BC Gas. After the public was discarded, it seems Richard kept the pipeline part of the deal and eventually the other part of BC Gas morphed into Fortis, a corporation with Caribbean connections (better tax laws maybe?). Fortis also bought up energy assets around North America such as in Newfoundland; maybe Newfoundland has similar campaign funding rules.

Gwyn Morgan, founder of EnCana, headquartered in Calgary (recently under a bit of flood water), now has a natural gas “It’s clean energy” cheerleader with his new premier Christy Clark. Gwyn is well connected through affiliations with Rio Tinto Alcan, Lafarge, HSBC, Fraser Institute and SNC-Lavalin. Prior to the election, Clark visited Calgary for a fundraising dinner and received support from corporate interests there. And the money keeps flooding in. Just after the election, Malaysian energy giant Petronas announced plans to spend $16 billion in new pipeline and processing infrastructure for a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) port in Prince Rupert. Boy, that natural gas is so popular. It’s all so international with a few multinational billionaires pleased that their campaign investments funding paid off. Are these expenses tax deductible? Gwyn Morgan wrote about this ‘potential’ in the Globe and Mail on December 16, well before the election. He stated presciently, “The $6 billion acquisition by Petronas comes with plans for a $10 billion liquid natural gas project, raising its total investment in Canada to $16-billion.”

Big bucks for sure and the math matches. Now really, would anyone from outside of BC, outside of Canada, support buying TV ads to discredit the less cooperative NDP?

A small process detail change happened on the actual election day that hampered how the wee people keep track of who actually votes. In prior BC elections, the names of people who had just voted were released in real time in a continuous flow to the parties, which then monitored the names to get their vote out. If a party supporter hadn’t voted yet, they got a call or a ride to the polls. But that was changed for BC’s recent election. Instead of being continuous, data was limited to spurts every few hours as election day sped by. This contributed to making it more difficult to monitor the active voting lists and ultimately harder to follow who had already voted, which needs be known in order to get out the vote effectively.

And then there is the First Past the Post electoral system, great for top-down money and power controlled elections, but lousy for real democracy. This colonial system is an insult in this modern computer internet era. We are still being controlled by the old-fashioned, blunt electoral process of First Past the Post takes all. When you do the math, you see how FPTP kills campaign participation, voter turnout and public democracy. Ever feel that BC is still treated like a colony?

It is a painful irony that we are led to believe that in a democracy the majority rules. But whose rules define which majority it will be? When elections morph into the minority rules, the majority are left unrepresented through FPTP. This electoral process is inherently disproportional. Some eligible voters get no representation while other get far too much. As in Animal Farm, we are all equal but some are more equal than others. It helps if you own an oil company or bank to get the kind of government you want. If 50% of eligible voters cast a ballot and it is a fairly close election, the winning 50% + of the riding gets all the power with only about 25% of the votes. With such an electoral system, in not uncommon for 70 to 80% of the electoral to be unrepresented, or, another way to say it is that they are represented by MLAs (or MPs) who don’t represent their vote or wishes. Hence, an undemocratic reality parading as democracy.

Some rich people believe government is just too useful for it to be left up to we the people. And some industrialists believe constitutional rights and habeas corpus are optional luxuries. And wars are for the poor to fight and the super rich to profit from.

But with the recent election and future floods to come, it’s time to wake up.

“The owners of this country know the truth: It’s called the American (Canadian) dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

– George Carlin

photo © Stuart Meade

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