FREDERICTON — The New Brunswick government will ban union and corporate donations to political parties in the province as of June 1.
Just last week, the government announced a list of electoral reforms, but said phasing out the corporate and union donations wouldn't be considered until after the next provincial election in the fall of 2018.
But that abruptly changed Thursday, during a legislative committee meeting on those reforms. Members were debating a bill that would reduce the limit on political donations by an individual, union or corporation to $3,000 from the current $6,000.
The Opposition Progressive Conservatives introduced an amendment to completely ban corporate and union donations.
The governing Liberals agreed to the change, adding the date of June 1 for the ban to take effect.
"Obviously having the Opposition come in a week after their fundraiser, and say now we should be banning corporations and unions from donating, is a bit rich," said Premier Brian Gallant.
But Opposition member Brian Macdonald said it wasn't a case of the government calling their bluff.
"No, we are glad they are adopting our amendment. It's a good step forward," Macdonald said.
Green Leader David Coon also said he didn't think the Tories were expecting the government to agree with their amendment.
"It kind of felt like an accident, but I'm still trying to process what happened, and I think the official Opposition may be in the same position," he said. "It's great news and I hope it signals a new willingness to actually consider amendments at committee stage from the opposition parties."
The June 1 date is just a day after the Liberals hold a $500-a-plate fundraising dinner in Moncton.
Gallant said that's only fair because the Tories have already held their fundraiser.
"We think that they can understand that it is only fair that the dinner we have organized and tried to sell tickets to already, that we finalize that. That will be the last one that we do that will allow corporations and unions to donate," he said.
Gallant said the original intention was not to make the change until after the current election cycle in an effort to be fair to all parties, as well as the corporations and unions.
"We believe now, since it is very clear that all political parties are in favour of this, that we can move forward," he said.
"We want to make sure that New Brunswickers see that the people that they elect are accountable to them and not accountable to big businesses or to unions across the province."
The federal government as well as the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and Nova Scotia have already banned donations to political parties by corporations and unions.
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press