A BC United political fundraiser featuring leader Kevin Falcon next month charges the maximum personal donation for 2023 down to the cent.
The fundraiser, scheduled for June 19 at Vancouver’s Hy’s Steakhouse, has tickets going for $1,401.40.
Fundraising rules changed in 2018 after the newly elected New Democrats had drafted and passed laws with the support of the BC Greens to eliminate donations from corporations, unions and other organizations. They instead introduced a system of personal donations with a starting limit of $1,200 as of 2018 subject to inflation adjustments.
The fundraiser as described on Elections BC’s website has drawn criticism from the political opposition.
BC Green House Leader Adam Olsen said political parties have an obligation to be accessible to as many people as possible. When people are hosting fundraisers that are $1,400 a ticket, it sets up exclusivity and only those who can afford $1,400 will get access to Falcon.
“I guess that really indicates who Kevin Falcon is comfortable communicating with and that’s the people who can afford $1,400.”
Olsen acknowledged the current system represents is a step up, with additional room for improvement in the future, as there’s no doubt political campaigns cost money.
“However, these events, at the high prices that are requiring people to pay to get involved in, are only targeted toward a more exclusive (group),” he said.
Many British Columbians are struggling to pay bills and crowds at these events do not reflect the British Columbia that MLAs need to govern, he said.
BC United said in a statement that the party has and continues to follow all fundraising guidelines as per the BC Elections Act.
“The Act was amended by David Eby in 2018 and the rules which he personally established and saw enshrined into law are those which all political parties in British Columbia must follow,” it reads. “Any public concerns regarding loopholes or permissible practices within the BC Elections Act should be directed to Premier Eby who wrote the existing rules.”
The statement adds that the party conducts all fundraising activities with the utmost integrity and adherence to legal requirements.
“As an organization, we are committed to fostering a positive and ethical political environment where all parties conduct fundraising practices within the boundaries of the law and we will call out any and all practices engaged in by other parties who fail to uphold that legal and ethical standard,” it reads.
The party did not answer questions about how many people had already bought tickets and how much it hopes to raise.
With two upcoming by-elections and next year’s scheduled general provincial election, attention is starting to focus on fundraising figures, but also the mechanics and ethics of fundraising.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, said the average median political donation across the country falls somewhere $50 to $100.
“That’s the closest (figure) we have as an indication of what an average voter can afford to give,” he said. “So if you have a donation limit above that, you are essentially saying, ‘if you are wealthy, feel free to use money as a means of influence.’” Conacher added a specific figure for B.C. is not available, pointed to a number of studies that show money influences the behaviour of politicians.
Conacher said BC United received more money in political donations than the NDP under the old system, because they were coming from big businesses.
“The amounts going to (BC United, formerly BC Liberals) were bigger and as a result worse,” he said. “There are a more big businesses than there are unions. So they were worse than the NDP. But that is not to say that (New Democrats) were good because they were taking big money from the unions.”
CEO of Hy’s Steakhouse is Neil Aisenstat, whose family is connected to more than $715,000 in donations to BC United, formerly the BC Liberals.
Neil’s brother, David, stepped down as CEO of The Keg and vice-chair of Recipe Unlimited Corp. two years ago, which billed itself as Canada’s largest full-service restaurant company, operating 19 different restaurant chains. Their brother John, who died in 2018, was CEO of Hy’s Steakhouse Canada at the time of his death. Their father Hy Aisenstat found the exclusive steak restaurant chain and also invested in the company that would eventually become the Keg.
Elections BC lists a total of $489,088.63 in donations between 2005 and 2016 connected to David Aisenstat to the party, candidate Arthur Griffiths – the former owner of the Vancouver Canucks – and Falcon when he unsuccessfully ran for leadership of the party against former premier Christy Clark.
Some contributions came directly from David, including his four contributions to Falcon totaling $61,855.97. Others including a $150,000 donation from Keg Restaurants Ltd in May 2013 list Aisenstat as principal officer.
Elections BC lists a total of $14,529.00 in donations under John’s name – inclusive Hy’s Restaurant – between 2009 and 2017.
Black Press Media reached out to Hy’s Restaurant for comment but did not receive a reply by deadline.