Pity Stephen McNeil. The NDP is stopping his Liberals from continuing to tap a tainted $2.37-million party trust fund to pay its bills.
“The motive is political,” McNeil complained after the government introduced the bill this week, adding plaintively: “You’d have to ask them why they would specifically go after us.”
Uh … no, I don’t have to ask the government, Mr. McNeil.
I know why.
So do you.
And all I can say is, it’s about time.
For decades, provincial governments would fatten their party coffers with money raised by a practice known as “tollgating.”
If you were a business and wanted to sell to the province, you had to fork over a kickback to the party-in-power’s bagman for the privilege.
The Tories and Liberals raked in millions as a result. In the 1980s, when the Mounties investigated the fundraising practices of Gerald Regan’s Liberal government, they discovered it had raised more than $4 million illegally during its eight years in office.
The Mounties filed influence-peddling charges against three senior Liberal bagmen, including one known as “Suitcase” Simpson for his suitcases of cash. One pleaded guilty. Two others were convicted at their 1984 trial, though one appealed and his conviction was overturned on a technicality. He was later acquitted at a retrial.
The Mounties tried to investigate the fundraising practices of provincial Tory governments, too, but — as an investigator testified during the Liberals’ trial — Tory fundraisers had burned their records before the police could seize them. The Mounties found only one intact file, which indicated the same kickback pattern the Liberals had employed.
Despite the odour, the Liberals continued to use their dirty money, including to underwrite a secret salary for their leader. Eventually, when the stench got too bad, the party reluctantly agreed to audit the controversial funds and turn over any tainted money to the province.
But thanks to the usual political jiggery-pokery, the audit wasn’t an audit. The party claimed only $1.3 million worth of the money was “proven or alleged to have been obtained” through kickbacks. They kept the rest. And still use it to give the party an unfair advantage over its rivals.
In opposition, the NDP filibustered a 2006 Tory-Liberal campaign finance reform bill because it failed to deal with this trust fund issue. So it’s no surprise the NDP is now using its majority to finally flush the system.
The only surprise is McNeil isn’t smart enough to simply say thank you and get on with rebuilding his party. Pity.
Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of Kings College, is the author of eight books.