For a long time, there was no better example of this than Quebec. In 1977, the Parti Québécois enacted the toughest campaign financing laws in the country, which banned corporate donations and limited individual contributions to $3,000. For the next three decades, provincial politicians — from the PQ and especially from the Liberal Party of Quebec — devised ways to get around this pesky law.
The end result, as documented by a two-year corruption inquiry that wrapped up in 2015, was a money-harvesting scheme through which political parties — the Liberals in particular — would siphon contributions from the province’s engineering and construction firms. For these firms, donating money through employees (itself a patently illegal manoeuvre) became an act of necessity — the cost of doing business with the government.
To be fair to Quebec’s political parties, it took over 30 years to perfect the scheme. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and the party he leads have figured it out in about 10 years — and they didn’t have to break a single law to do it.
Political parties are generally discreet about fundraising on the backs of their leaders. The Saskatchewan Party, which has ruled over the Land Of Living Skies since 2007, does so with the cheeseball gusto normally reserved for televangelists and used car salesmen.
Consider the Saskatchewan Party’s Premier’s Dinners. Just $250 gets you a plate of food and a seat in the nosebleeds at one of the five dinners Brad Wall will host this year. The real money, though, comes with the extras. The Saskatchewan Party teases those $2,000 tables-for-eight with a $3,000 up-sell to the ‘Committee and Sponsors Reception’, which gets your “company logo displayed prominently on sponsor boards and digital displays, and a mention from the podium.”
But wait — there’s more.
As documented by political commentator Tammy Robert, the party also sells access to Wall on the golf links. Just $275 gets you into the Premier’s Northern Golf Classic, along with a golf cart, dinner and a handshake from Wall himself. Drop another $225 into the Saskatchewan Party coffers and you get your name on a tee box. An extra $725 gets you into a private cocktail reception with the premier and members of his cabinet.
The $5,000 ‘Gold Sponsorship’ buys your foursome a private golf game, an “invitation to and prominent signage at the pre-event Sponsors Reception, major signage with logo on each golf cart and 18 tee box signs.” Unspoken in this pitch, but very much understood, is the fact that the Saskatchewan Party president, assorted cabinet members and often Brad Wall himself are usually in attendance.
These shindigs, along with the many slippery, secretive private fundraising soirées, have made the Saskatchewan Party a fundraising dynamo. According to election records, it raised just over $4.25 million in 2015. By comparison, the provincial NDP raised about $1.3 million. Brad Wall’s party received 1,377 corporate donations. The NDP? All of 51.
In return, big businesses in the province and beyond have received many lucrative contracts from the Saskatchewan government. The top corporate donor to the Saskatchewan party in 2015 was Partner Technologies Inc. Since 2009 the company, which manufactures electrical transformers, has donated $28,372 to Wall’s party. During that time, it has received over $230 million in contracts from the Saskatchewan Power Corporation, according to payee disclosure reports found on the government website.
This is but one example in the fish-in-a-barrel exercise of cross-referencing the Saskatchewan Party donor list. And this is the astonishing thing: None of these donors, Partner Technologies included, did anything illegal.
In Quebec, companies and corporations had to break the law to donate to political parties. In Saskatchewan, it is entirely out in the open, and there is no limit to the amount an individual or a corporation can give. Hell, even companies based outside of the province can donate — and they have, including Calgary-based Trans Canada Pipelines and Vancouver-based Telus Inc., among dozens of others.
Wall himself is so nonplussed at the rather disastrous optics of all of this that he could barely muster a shrug when it was revealed that he owned shares in an oil company his government was lobbying to come to the province.
The premier has been just as blatant in handing out patronage appointments to Saskatchewan Party donors. Tammy Robert raked through the political contribution history of those who have served on the boards of government corporations. Her results, which she shared with me, are telling, to say the least.
Since 2010, a full 84 per cent of the board members of the Saskatchewan Power Corporation have either personally donated to the Saskatchewan Party, or have been the principles of companies that did. Seventy-five per cent of SaskTel board members ponied up to Wall’s party. And the board members of Sask Gaming? Since 2010, all of them have donated to the Saskatchewan Party. Not a bad bet.
In politics, you eventually become what you profess to hate. The Saskatchewan Party was born out of a sense of austere populism in 1997 — the hardscrabble laypeople rising up against the entrenched establishment. After barely a decade in power, it has become quite the opposite: a political entity that proudly sells access to its leader, just as it does to the naming rights on its golf carts.
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Author: Martin Patriquin