SFU’s chancellor Anne Giardini was criticized in national media this past weekend for hosting, in her own home, a $10,000 per plate dinner fundraiser for SFU alumni Christy Clark. While Giardini claimed the criticism is due to Christy Clark being a woman, SFU students should be concerned with elitist political fundraising, and how our public university’s governors use their political power.
Giardini, who is also the wife of mining executive Tony Giardini, welcomed 10 people into her home to enjoy a multicourse meal. For $10,000 per plate, there’s no doubt they expected more than a nice steak and dessert — they wanted face-to-face access to Christy Clark.
When questioned, Giardini said she was not “comfortable” discussing the dinner, or divulging the names of those paid such obscene amounts of money to attend.
She went on to express the need to support women in politics. She said women are “particularly targeted” by stories of party finance, and women have a very hard time raising money to be in the political system. When questioned about whether she believes this is a gender issue, Giardini responded, “Yes, I think it is.”
No, this is not a gender issue. This is an issue of rising democratic inequalities where only the moneyed elites have access to political power. BC NDP leader Joe Horgan raises money through private fundraisers too, and it’s just as wrong. Jen Gerson from The National Post commented, “If there’s a correlation we should be considering, it’s not one of gender, but of totally inadequate fundraising laws.”
Fundraising through private events is currently completely legal, although Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher said it may violate conflict-of-interest laws in Canada. Legalities aside, it is morally and ethically problematic; political power should not be for sale in Canada.
BC needs legislation that bans corporate and union donations, and caps individual donations.
This type of fundraising is commonplace in BC and across Canada in provinces such as Alberta and Ontario. Unpublicized fundraisers are commonplace, with attendees paying between $5,000 and $20,000 for the ears of our politicians. Bob Rennie, chair of fundraising for the BC Liberals said that they might hold about 20 more fundraisers between now and the 2017 provincial election.
Put bluntly, we need party finance reform in BC. In 2006, the federal government banned corporate and union donations, and capped individual donations. Christy Clark has promised more transparency and disclosure of donations, but this is not enough. BC needs legislation that mirrors the federal government’s actions.
If the recent Panama Papers leak has revealed anything, it’s that there is a growing dichotomy in the way the rich one percent and the rest of us are treated under the law. We are left to pay taxes and scrape by on student loans, to invest in an education that may not pay off, while the rich stash their money in offshore bank accounts, avoid taxes, and pay thousands for exclusive access to politicians, such as Christy Clark.
What can we students do about this? For a start, we can be visibly upset and spread the word. Educate your friends and family; make others aware of the issue. Make party finance reform a hot topic and force the government to address this issue. “Change doesn’t happen by itself,” Edward Snowden warned at SFU Public Square’s event in Vancouver earlier this week.
Political fundraising is not a gender issue, but an issue that affects all Canadians and alienates average voters from their elected representatives. More robust party finance laws in BC and other provinces would be a benefit to people, and would not affect genders disproportionately.