Public Eye – January 20

If Kevin Falcon wins the provincial Liberal leadership race, he’ll have big business to thank for it.

  • Jan. 18, 2011 5:00 p.m.

Big business wooing Falcon

If Kevin Falcon wins the provincial Liberal leadership race, he’ll have big business to thank for it.

The former cabinet minister says he won’t feel beholden to those businesses should he become premier, but independent legislators Bob Simpson and Vicki Huntington believe British Columbians may think otherwise.

Among those competing to succeed Gordon Campbell, the Surrey-Cloverdale MLA has had the most public support from the business community.

Since last week, Falcon 20/20 — a third-party group led by prominent real-estate developer Ryan Beedie — has rolled out the names of 16 business leaders who are endorsing Falcon’s leadership bid.

Many of those leaders and their businesses have a past record of supporting the Liberals, having contributed more than $700,000 to the party and its candidates between 2005 and 2009, according to a review of Elections British Columbia filings. And now, Falcon has said they’re signing-up party members in support of his leadership bid.

But the rub, according to Simpson and Huntington, is that those businesses may also have a stake in future government decisions — from taxation to regulation issues.

In fact, two of them — marine transportation company Seaspan Coastal Intermodal Inc. and The Beedie Group are presently registered to lobby the province, while Rocky Mountaineer Railtours Ltd. has done so in the past on “transportation policy.”

Seaspan is looking for a “competitive regulatory environment” for “commercial goods movement to Vancouver Island” — a reference to the company’s accusation that British Columbia Ferry Services Inc. is undercutting its business moving big rig trailers across the Georgia Strait.

Meanwhile, The Beedie Group is talking to the government about “municipal land development corporations.”

In an interview with Monday, Simpson said, in the future, British Columbians could question whether there’s a correlation between Falcon’s decisions as premier and the support he received from such companies during the leadership campaign.

Indeed, according to the Cariboo North MLA, that’s exactly what happened when the New Democrats were in power and they made labour law changes favourable to the union movement — “the biggest kind of corporate donor, if you will, to the NDP.”

“When you get that kind of money, you feel beholden to them,” fellow independent legislator Huntington said in a separate interview. “I’ve seen it at the municipal level and I think this province is completely tied to the interest of big business to our political detriment. I think it’s something that has to be reformed. But I haven’t really seen any of that talk.”

But, in an interview with Monday, Falcon said “I don’t have any problem with the support I’m receiving from the business community. And the fact they do so openly makes it very clear there is no underlying agenda or anything else.”

“There’s no special favours for anyone, but there’s good public policy,” he continued. “And most business leaders, that’s all they care about.”

As for Huntington’s suggestion, there should be campaign finance reform — something none of the Liberal leadership candidates have proposed — Falcon said, “I’m comfortable with the system we have. It’s not perfect. But I think with transparency and openness it lets everyone know who’s donating, what they’ve donated.”

Beedie didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline. M

Sean Holman is the editor of the online provincial political news journal Public Eye

(publiceyeonline.com) and host of Public Eye Radio, which can be heard 8-10 a.m. Sunday mornings on CFAX 1070.

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