My first impression when I found out that Premier Christy Clark was hosting $10,000 fundraising lunches, was pretty ambivalent. Her party appeals to people who don’t want to be taxed: rich people, for whom a 1% increase in tax is a helluva lot of money; people who would rather pay private school tuition fee because it’s cheaper than a tax increase that would go toward a more equitable public system (poor kids be-damned); people who are in the C-suites of corporations.
Yeah, I don’t like it, but I thought, “So she knows some rich people, and they’re willing to fund her campaign. So what?”
But the longer I sit with the idea the more I realize that it’s not “so what”. Not at all.
I still remember the howls of outrage levelled at Premier Glen Clark back in the day when a friend of his, built the premier a nice sundeck for his residence to the tune of 9 grand or so: interestingly, lower than the cost of one lunch with Christy Clark. Oh the indignation! The mere optics of the transaction led to the resignation of the premier.
Ultimately, Glen Clark’s behaviour was investigated, and he was found to not have had any conflicting interests. It ended up being just a friend doing a friend a favour –without benefiting from the fact that the recipient was the premier. Still, though. It was a transgression for a premier to receive such a benefit.
But this business with Premier Christy Clark and the $10,000 lunches: this is blatant violation of conflict of interest guidelines.
First of all, her party pays her a stipend, a big one, which is unconventional enough (What if a question of governance came up that might put her at odds with the party?), but the fact that these lunches raise the funds from which the party draws to pay for that stipend… yeahhh, that’s a slick arrangement!
And what possible motive could a person have for a private lunch with the premier for that amount of money?
Do they just talk about the weather?
At the very least, one has to believe that at these lunches, there is discussion of how those at the table would like to see the province run. Maybe they say things like, “Thank you, Premier, for keeping my corporate taxes low.”
And maybe the Premier answers with something like, “Well we wanna ensure that good folks like you, who bring so much wealth to the province, have a fiscal environment that allows you to succeed. And could you please pass the risotto?”. And then they clink their glasses of Quail’s Gate.
And that very conversation is the problem (not the part about risotto). People who can pay will be able to bend the premier’s ear, and present to her their world view (right or wrong), and the premier, who has just cashed in big-time, might possibly feel a bit indebted to these lunch guests. And after all, they’re the nice people –well dressed, charming, funny, educated.
Meanwhile, the people who are struggling to put food on their own table will never be able to let Christy Clark know how the views she subscribes to may not reflect the reality of life for a larger portion of the populace. So she goes on in blissful (or willful) ignorance, eating on white linen table cloths.