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Parsons too busy now to reform political financing

Government House Leader Andrew Parsons
Government House Leader Andrew Parsons

Government House Leader Andrew Parsons said this week he is still firmly committed to reforming political financing rules in Newfoundland and Labrador, but he’s just too busy to get started until next year.

Parsons spoke to The Telegram this week, responding to revelations that the Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Party took $15,000 from Canada Fluorspar Inc. just before the government approved a $17-million loan for the company’s mining project.

The issue of political donations, and the fact it sometimes takes more than a year for Elections N.L. to publicly post the information online, is something the Liberals used to care quite a bit about.

Premier Dwight Ball talked about it when he was Opposition leader, and in their 2015 election campaign platform, the Liberals promised to convene an all-party committee to study democratic reform issues, and one of the topics they specifically mentioned was the possibility of disclosing political donations more frequently.

A year and a half after the general election, though, no all-party committee has materialized, and Parsons said people are going to have to wait a while longer before it happens.

“During the spring 2018 session, that resolution will be debated in the House of Assembly,” he told The Telegram.

Why delay for another year?

“There’s a tremendous amount of other work happening right now on a whole number of issues,” Parsons said.

NDP Leader Earle McCurdy was skeptical.

“That seems like an awful long time to be busy,” he said.

“It sounds to me like a schedule aimed at getting through the next election.”

That thought was shared by Memorial University political science associate professor Kelly Blidook.

It might sound like a long time — if you get started in 2018 the committee will need time to study the issue, and then any recommendations will need to be drafted into legislation by the government, passed in the House of Assembly and ultimately implemented by Elections N.L.

It’s a tall order to get it all done before the next general election in the fall of 2019.

And in fact, Parsons wasn’t making any promises on whether changes will be made to the political financing rules before the next election.

“That depends on the committee,” he said. “I can’t promise something that I don’t have full control over. What I have full control of is to bring a resolution to the House of Assembly, and I promise that, yes.”

Blidook said when it comes to political donations, the Canada Fluorspar Inc. $15,000 contribution to the Liberals is a good example of why the current system in the province is so deeply flawed.

“For anybody on the outside watching that, it looks bad, and there’s no way to make it look good,” Blidook said.

Currently corporations and unions can legally give as much as they want to political parties, and corporations routinely contribute tens of thousands of dollars to the governing party.

A better system, according to Blidook, is banning corporate and union donations, and putting a limit on how much people can donate. This would probably mean a need for some sort of taxpayer subsidy for political parties.

“If you want to have a system where corruption is more likely to occur, that’s a cheaper system,” Blidook explained. “There’s an additional cost to moving beyond that, and it almost certainly involves some element of public subsidy for parties.”

When The Telegram asked Parsons about the Canada Fluorspar Inc. donations, he bristled at the questions.

Then, unprompted, he shifted to talking about a largely unrelated political scandal involving the Liberals’ political rivals, the Progressive Conservatives.

“Hang on a sec’ now. What you are implying — and it’s clearly what you’re implying — is corruption,” Parsons said. “And I do not stand for that in any way, shape or form. I will be establishing a resolution. I will be calling an inquiry into the Humber Valley Paving scandal. I do not stand by and suggest that this is OK or allowable or agreeable, which is what your implication is.”

Parsons also suggested this isn’t really an issue that people care about very much.

“Anecdotally, this is not an issue that is brought up to me by people in my district or people that I run into,” he said.

The Telegram also requested comment from the Tories on this. They politely declined to comment on the matter.

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