Liberals, PCs 'colluded' to keep corporate donations, says Green Party

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The leader of the P.E.I. Green Party is accusing the Premier and Opposition leader of "colluding" in order to reverse a proposed ban on corporate and union political donations in the province.

Peter Bevan-Baker levelled the accusation Wednesday in the provincial legislature.

"A quick scan of the political donations would expose why both the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition would be happy to collude on such a turnaround," Bevan-Baker told the House.

"Corporate donations to both parties are counted in the hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, accounting for the majority of party revenues."

PC Leader requested change, says premier

Bevan-Baker was reacting to comments Premier Wade MacLauchlan made the week before, when asked who convinced him to change his mind on election finance reform.

"Among the people who specifically requested me on two occasions to change the position to enable firms and corporations to donate up to a stipulated limit, is the Honourable Leader of the Opposition," MacLauchlan responded then.

But on Wednesday, Opposition leader Jamie Fox insisted he hasn't had any formal discussions with the premier on the topic, and certainly wasn't involved in any collusion.

"There's never been any formal meetings or discussions on what one party thinks that I've been involved in," he said. "This is an all-party thing where all parties need to be involved. The premier stated that. The premier also said that there had to be consultation. I've never been involved in any of that consultation."

Asked if he had informally discussed the issue with MacLauchlan, Fox said: "I think we need to go back to what the premier said. The premier said he was going to bring in draft legislation. That has not happened. The premier said that there would be consultation with the people of P.E.I. That has not happened."

Plans announced, quickly changed

In May of 2016, MacLauchlan announced an end to political donations in the province from corporations and unions, and said a bill would be introduced in the fall, after a consultation process over the summer.

The bill didn't materialize, and in December the premier sent a letter to party leaders proposing a cap on donations, rather than a ban, saying draft legislation would be presented to the leaders and written submissions accepted from the public before a bill would be presented in the House sometime in 2017.

"Let's recognize that the proposal that's being brought forward would, for the first time in the history of this province, put a cap on the amount that individuals or corporations or unions can donate to a political party," MacLauchlan told the House Wednesday, adding the proposed cap of $3,000 would be "in the interest of transparency and openness and continued support for the democratic process in this province."

P.E.I. currently has no restrictions on the size of political donations or who can make them. A CBC News analysis found 57 per cent of all political donations in the province in 2015 were from corporations and unions. The Liberals took in the most money, and also had the highest percentage of corporate and union donations, at 61 per cent. For the PCs the figure was 57 per cent.

Proposed system would give business owners 'two votes,' says Bevan-Baker

Bevan-Baker later said he applauded the premier for bringing in some form of electoral finance reform, but complained the proposed limit would give business owners greater sway to affect political outcomes because they could donate both as individuals and then again as corporations.

"Donating to political parties, after all, is like voting with your money and business owners get two votes," he said.

He also said that with the proposed limit, the Liberals would still be able to accept 80 per cent of the donations they received in 2015.