Patrick Meehan

The state of BC’s party finances

Good afternoon! Patrick from Cambie Report here with some analysis I managed to work through quickly.

Elections BC released the 2018 annual financial disclosures today and I had the chance to do a quick a skim.

Using the roughest of measures, cash on hand minus liabilities, we can get a sense of the overall health of each of the major parties.

The small amount held by the BC Liberals is mostly due to a $1.5 million loan that was undertaken in 2018. This was presumably, in large part, to fight against the proportional representation referendum. Noteworthy, the BC Greens cash on hand is about $50k more than they had to fight the entire 2017 election with. It may be safe to assume that Green party leadership are quite happy with their current financial footing.

Moving on to the total contributions in 2018:

While it looks like the BC Liberals fundraising machine is broken, it’s worth remembering it was a leadership cycle year, so they likely have similar fundraising capacity as the BC NDP at this point. Even with that assumption, the BC Liberals have not been outspent by the BC NDP since the 1991 election. Even if the BC Liberals manage to overcome their $5 million deficit versus the BC NDP between now and next election, fighting a campaign on equal financial footing with the NDP would be new and probably quite difficult for the BC Liberal Party.

These numbers raise quite a few questions around the possible timing of the next provincial election. For example, this gives the NDP Government the comfort to stay in office for longer if it would like, or to engineer a snap election should the BC Liberals look to dump their current leader.

There have been rumours out of Victoria that Andrew Wilkinson is having considerable problems within his own caucus. This is notable as there were very few rumours in Victoria of the same difficulties before 13 BC NDP MLA’s came out to publicly call for Carole James to step down; nor when the BC Liberal caucus was ripped apart in 2010 resulting in the ousting of Gordon Campbell. With rumours of difficulty within caucus and a party that appears to be in financial disarray, this increases the possibility that Andrew Wilkinson may not be the leader of the BC Liberals following the summer of 2019; though it is relatively unlikely that anything will occur while the legislature is in session. Typically, MLAs will take the temperature of their riding during the summer BBQ circuit to determine how well they’re doing. If the Leader’s circuit is a flop, or if the feeling is he isn’t working out, there could be a rebellion at the summer caucus retreat. This is when we saw the knives come out for Christy Clark in 2017.

The Green Party’s financial position is quite strong and that they may be able to fight a robust third party campaign, which has not been seen since the emergence of the BC Liberal Party in 1991. While elections are inherently risky, the BC Greens are not in particular danger of losing any of their three current seats and they have a range of 3-5 seats that they may be able to realistically challenge in the next election. While that may not sound like much, an additional 4 MLAs would mean approximately 11 more full time Green Party staff jobs in both the Legislature and Constituency Offices, which helps to build the party substantially.

It’s notable that in the 2017 financial disclosures the BC Green Party registered just $1,000 in office furniture and computers, while now they are reporting $18,000. This is a sign the party’s political machine has professionalized and stood up as a real apparatus rather than existing in the dens and living rooms of its members. This is the best sign we have that the party is going to be much more capable of fighting a political campaign than they have ever been..

The BC NDP meanwhile are looking at potentially the largest financial disparity between themselves and the BC Liberals that they may ever see. Couple that with their relatively strong polling numbers and the
the perceived weakness of the Liberal leader and this leads to a very strong position to try to engineer an election. With a federal election in the fall, the earliest we would likely see a BC election would be around the 2020 budget cycle. That is of course assuming things are unlikely to come to a head in the remaining 8 weeks of the scheduled session (presumably with the agreement of the BC Greens) forcing an election.

While there was reason to speculate the BC Liberals being flat broke for several months now, it’s hard to know what is going on behind another party’s public face when you’re enmeshed in a political apparatus. That means that senior leadership of the BC NDP may not have been aware of just how underwater the BC Liberal Party was until today. So it will be interesting to see the signals from government over the coming weeks.