The role of big money and corporate lobbying in BC politics has become a major issue as we head into the May provincial election. It’s a problem of central concern to us at the Corporate Mapping Project, a research initiative investigating the power and influence of the fossil fuel industry. In a study published today, we took a close look at political donations by oil, gas and coal companies and their industry associations. We also analyzed information from the BC Lobbyist Registry to find out what kind of access to government these donations help secure.
The results are, quite simply, jaw-dropping. And they raise important questions about how we want our democracy to function.
Since 2008, 48 fossil fuel companies and industry groups donated a total of $5.2 million to the province’s two leading political parties, the BC Liberals and the BC NDP. The vast majority (92%) went to the BC Liberals.
The top 10 donors alone funneled over $4 million into our political system. Only two of these top 10 are headquartered in BC — the rest are headquartered in Calgary and the United States. They include five of the most profitable fossil fuel companies in Canada.
Political donations from the natural gas sector doubled in 2012-13 compared to 2008-09, which parallels increasing rates of natural gas production and the introduction of regulations and subsidies designed to support unconventional gas development in the province’s Northeast. And in 2014 and 2015, newly formed LNG operators made significant donations, again largely to the BC Liberals.
But political donations are only part of the story. These contributions also dovetail trends in lobbying and access to key political decision makers. And on this score the numbers are equally alarming.
Our research reveals that 43 fossil fuel corporations and industry groups recorded more than 22,000 lobbying contacts with public officials in BC since 2010. That’s an average of more than 14 contacts per business day.
Twenty-eight per cent of lobbying contacts by the top 10 were with cabinet ministers. Rich Coleman, Minister of Natural Gas Development, is the most-targeted minister, with an average of three contacts per week since 2010. Premier Christy Clark is the next most targeted member of government, followed by Bill Bennett (Energy and Mines), Mary Polak (Environment), and Mike de Jong (Finance).
In addition to these contacts with cabinet ministers, companies targeted ministerial staff (almost half the total lobbying contacts) and MLAs (about a quarter of the contacts).
The range of topics reported by these companies and industry groups shows they seek to influence policy related to issues such as royalty rates from fossil fuel extraction, land access, corporate taxation, consultation processes with First Nations, greenhouse gas emissions, and LNG development, among others. From October 2015 to August 2016, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) reported 201 lobbying contacts in relation to BC Climate Leadership plan (which turned out not to be much of a plan at all).
The amount of lobbying by environmental organizations — among those most likely to oppose fossil fuel development — pales in comparison, with a total of only 1,324 contacts over the same period.
Not surprisingly, there is substantial overlap between political donations and lobbying, with seven of the top ten political donors also ranking among the top ten most-active lobbyists.
These findings paint a deeply troubling picture of the state of democracy in BC. Everyday citizens, First Nations and public interest organizations can only dream about the kind of access powerful fossil fuel corporations and industry groups enjoy thanks to their deep pockets. And the degree to which political contributions are coming from outside BC is alarming, and not something many other democracies allow.
Whoever wins the provincial election this May, a first order of business should be to ban political donations by anyone other than individuals whose primary residence is in BC, cap individual contributions at a modest level that prevents wealthy donors from having undue influence, and substantially tighten the province’s Lobbyist Registration Act.
Nicolas Graham is a student researcher with the Corporate Mapping Project, and a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Victoria. Shannon Daub is Associate Director of the CCPA’s BC Office. She co-directs the Corporate Mapping Project with Bill Carroll, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Victoria, which hosts the project. Find out more at corporatemapping.ca. This research was supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).