Democracy Watch web site
Corporations should be banned from donating to political parties in P.E.I. and the province should introduce donation limits, says a national electoral watchdog.
Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher says he is concerned over the fact many donors to the two main political parties in P.E.I. last year were corporations and businesses that donated much more than an average Islander could afford.
“If you believe in the fundamental democratic principle of ‘one person, one vote,’ then you should believe corporations, unions and other organizations should not be allowed to donate at all because they’re not people and they don’t vote,” Conacher said.
“And even if they were voters, they shouldn’t be allowed to give more than what an average person can afford to give.”
P.E.I.’s governing Liberal party significantly out-fundraised its political rivals last year, raising twice the amount of all other parties in the province combined.
The Liberals took in over $451,000 in party donations. The Progressive Conservative party, which currently sits in Opposition, raised just under $191,000.
A large number of contributors to both parties were corporate entities, including the majority of the top five donors to both the Liberals and the Tories.
Conacher says this is problematic.
He argues large donations by corporations give them influence, especially when it’s the governing party they’re giving money to.
“It’s undemocratic because it does have influence and it’s very difficult to know how donations have influence on government decision-making.”
Last year, the biggest political donor to any party in P.E.I. was the law firm McInnis Cooper. It gave the Liberal party close to $10,000.
Gary Scales, managing partner for the P.E.I. branch of the firm, said this money was just one of many donations to social and community groups across the Island.
“Our lawyers and clients represent a balanced cross-section of many interests, so we are quite engaged in the community and we support the democratic process and we support the community and political engagement of our people,” he said.
He also noted his company gives to both the governing and Opposition parties and tries to make it balanced among the two.
McInnis Cooper is listed as having given $1,000 to the Tories in 2013, with an additional $1,200 donated by Scales.
Another law firm, Cox and Palmer, was the Liberals’ second highest single donor, with a contribution of $7,000 in 2013. The firm also gave over $4,000 to the Tories.
Managing partner Mary-Lynn Kane echoed Scales’ comments, listing a number of organizations across P.E.I. her firm has also supported.
“We believe in the democratic process and in supporting it, and that’s about being a good corporate citizen,” she said.
Bell Aliant was the largest donor to the PC party. It gave the Tories $4,300 and the Liberals $4,500.
“Bell Aliant views political contributions as a way to support engagement in the political process,” a spokeswoman wrote in an email to The Guardian, noting requests for donations are usually for a specific event such as a dinner or golf tournament.
“We strive to keep donations consistent across the parties and in the various provinces where we operate.”
When asked whether donations offer his firm an advantage or influence with government, Scales said no.
“Not at all,” he said. “We’re engaged in the community where we live, and so we support community and political organizations.”
But Conacher said other jurisdictions have banned corporate donations and introduced more stringent caps on donations.
The federal government has a $2,400 limit for donations and does not allow corporations to donate money. The province of Quebec has a $100 political donation limit.
“The main reason to make the change is it’s just not democratic,” Conacher said.
Top 5 biggest donors to P.E.I. Liberal and PC parties in 2013
McInnes Cooper - Charlottetown - $9,452.16
Cox & Palmer - Charlottetown - $6,856.62
Kenneth Clark - Charlottetown - $5,842.56
Bell Aliant - Charlottetown - $4,555.20
Cavendish Farms Corporation, Dieppe - $4,555.20
Contributions not exceeding $250 = $89,105.06
Bell Aliant - Charlottetown - $4,369.36
Cox & Palmer, Ron Profit - Charlottetown - $4,369.36
Scotiabank - Charlottetown - $2,014.68
Key, Derek - Summerside - $1,966.27
Thomas M. Carver Ltd. - Montague - $1,812.54
Contributions under $250 = $19,566.54