Big money erodes democracy and divides communities

Looking back on the past month of electioneering, what stands out for you? Here’s what stands out for me: Political donations!

Many people are aware of Woodfibre LNG and FortisBC donating large sums to the BC Liberal Party and the BC NDP. They are not the only ones doing this, something that was addressed in a recent CBC news article titled, “Political Donations: Following the money in B.C. politics.”

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Reading the article and being confronted with this data again, it left me wondering: , Should we even consider the outcome of this election as valid, when so much ‘big money’ has been donated to the BC Liberals, and to a lesser extend to the BC NDP?

Through their donations these companies have effectively sponsored political party election campaigns. Isn’t that becoming a bit problematic when local communities are faced with projects like Woodfibre LNG?

Where is democratic ethics in a society that allows this to continue?

What is not so well known is, that Woodfibre LNG and FortisBC have been donating money at another level too. A recent letter to the editor of the Squamish Chief addressed companies handing out “community grants” or “community investments” in the community of Squamish. Aside from questioning the authority of Woodfibre LNG and FortisBC to hand out these ‘grants’, there is obviously more at play.

Clearly, Woodfibre LNG and FortisBC are not distributing these ‘grants’ because they have too much money and would like to get rid of it. There is a purpose to these ‘grants’ that is difficult to separate from the vested interests we know these companies have. Both companies want their projects to go through, and they require (some) community support.

 Although, FortisBC claims “ invests in variety of community initiatives that support stronger, healthier BC communities” and Woodfibre LNG is “...supporting some of the charities and community groups that play an important role in contributing to a vibrant and growing Squamish”, these grants are simply a PR strategy cooked up by hired PR firms to put the two companies in a favourable light to get that community support they want.

If the companies were serious about their nicely articulated intent, they would at least have set up a proper granting processes through dedicated Foundations that operate at arm’s length from the company, but that is not the case at all. When you apply for a grant, you apply directly to the company.

The grants do two things for the companies.

Organizations applying are self-selecting. The applicants are probably already sympathetic towards the project or the company. It helps the company identify and strengthen that support with added effect that people or organizations in general don’t bite the hand that feeds them. The grant acceptance is literally a pact with the devil, and few under those conditions can suppress or walk away from the obligation to show support.

The grants also split the community into two camps: The ones who decided to accept company grants, and the ones who have decided against it. Existing fractures within communities are used and strengthened to (re)create divisions so the company can further its interest.

Clearly rules about political donations are far and few between in B.C., and it has let to practices that would put any self respecting democracy to shame. The fact that the two companies were able to donate to a governing party while their projects were/are under an Environmental Assessments review is unheard-of.

No matter what the outcome is of the past election, we must come together to put an end to this, otherwise organized money will keep eroding our democracy and our communities, and our children and grandchildren will pay the price for our nonchalance.

Anton van Walraven was transplanted to Bowen Island from the Netherlands too late in life to be healthy. He still dearly misses the bicycle he left behind. 

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