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N.B. Liberals, Greens would ban out-of-province party fundraising

New Brunswick Liberal Leader Susan Holt and Green Leader David Coon are both promising to ban out-of-province donations to New Brunswick political parties.   (CBC - image credit)
New Brunswick Liberal Leader Susan Holt and Green Leader David Coon are both promising to ban out-of-province donations to New Brunswick political parties. (CBC - image credit)

The leaders of the Liberal and Green parties are both promising to ban out-of-province donations to New Brunswick political parties.

Susan Holt and David Coon made the commitment in response to a Progressive Conservative Party fundraising trip this week by Premier Blaine Higgs to British Columbia and Alberta.

Most provinces don't allow political parties to raise money from non-residents.

"Yeah, we'd get rid of it. It's only common sense," Coon said.

Holt said the practice is "uncomfortable and distasteful" and she would figure out how to outlaw it if she wins this year's election — a new position she adopted after first telling the newspaper L'Acadie Nouvelle a day earlier that she couldn't commit to a ban.

She said Thursday she has since heard from many party members and New Brunswickers who want the practice eliminated.

PC campaign manager Steve Outhouse posted a photo on social media Tuesday showing Higgs speaking to a crowd of people in a large room in Abbotsford, B.C.
PC campaign manager Steve Outhouse posted a photo on social media Tuesday showing Higgs speaking to a crowd of people in a large room in Abbotsford, B.C.

PC campaign manager Steve Outhouse posted a photo on social media Tuesday showing N.B. Premier Blaine Higgs speaking to a crowd of people in a large room in Abbotsford, B.C. (Steve Outhouse/X)

Holt's switch also came as Progressive Conservatives accused the Liberals and others of criticizing something that Holt and her party had engaged in.

"The online outrage appears to be about stopping Conservative fundraising, rather than standing up for any actual principle," PC campaign manager Steve Outhouse said in a social media post.

Premier Blaine Higgs attended events in Abbotsford, B.C., and Calgary this week. There were no tickets sold, but the party suggested invitees make donations.

Progressive Conservatives pointed out Thursday that out-of-province donations to the Liberals in 2022 — the last full year for which figures are available — were a larger share of net contributions than they were for the PCs.

According to public records, Holt also raised almost six times as much money from outside New Brunswick for her 2022 Liberal leadership campaign as Higgs did for his 2016 PC bid.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said his government will try to balance the cost of new energy sources with the ability for citizens to afford the added expenses he expects will come with them.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said his government will try to balance the cost of new energy sources with the ability for citizens to afford the added expenses he expects will come with them.

Higgs has another fundraiser scheduled for Toronto next month, a $1,000-per-ticket dinner and reception at the city's Albany Club. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Public records show Holt collected $15,918.54 in out-of-province donations of $100 or more when she ran for the leadership, compared to just $2,700 collected by Higgs.

Donors who give less than $100 aren't identified on financial returns filed with Elections New Brunswick.

But out-of-province donations of $100 or more represented 15.9 per cent of Holt's and 5.2 per cent of Higgs's.

When Higgs ran for the PC leadership, donations from corporations were still allowed.

His only out-of-province corporate donation was $2,000 from the Toronto Dominion Bank.

Even with that included, Holt still collected more out-of-province money than Higgs.

Holt's donors included one from outside Canada: Tim Coates, a former Fredericton entrepreneur now working for a technology company in the New York City area.

The Liberal leader said Thursday that Coates was a personal acquaintance that she once babysat and later worked with, and that other out-of-province donors included a sibling and a cousin.

Liberal Leader Susan Holt said Higgs should not be leaving New Brunswick for partisan events while health care challenges and homelessness are reaching crisis points.
Liberal Leader Susan Holt said Higgs should not be leaving New Brunswick for partisan events while health care challenges and homelessness are reaching crisis points.

According to public records, Liberal Leader Susan Holt raised almost six times as much money from outside New Brunswick for her 2022 Liberal leadership campaign as Higgs did for his 2016 PC bid.  (CBC)

The list also included John Bragg, president of Nova Scotia-based Oxford Frozen Foods, who gave Holt $1,000, and businessman Scott McCain, a Toronto resident and chairman of New Brunswick-based McCain Foods Ltd.

He gave $3,000 to Holt, the maximum allowable. He gave $1,500 to Higgs's leadership campaign in 2016.

His mother Margaret McCain, who lives in Toronto, also donated $3,000 to Holt's campaign.

Holt said there is a difference between "passively" receiving donations and actively leaving the province to ask for them, but she would look at how to outlaw both.

"In general, I think going out of province and engaging with interest groups to fill your political coffers is uncomfortable and distasteful," she said.

"It begs the question: Who is buying influence in New Brunswick decision-making and why is it not New Brunswickers?"

Coon said the existing law is likely aimed at allowing people originally from New Brunswick to contribute.

He added that it will be unfair to smaller parties if the two big mainstream parties take advantage of it to use their resources to travel the country holding events.

A ban is the best way to "create a level playing field and ensure that no party is going to go off and try to raise huge amounts of money from elsewhere in Canada," he said.

"Not that that's happened yet, but certainly the premier's forays into Alberta and British Columbia and his plans in Toronto suggest that's a concerted effort this year."

A ban is the best way to 'create a level playing field and ensure that no party is going to go off and try to raise huge amounts of money from elsewhere in Canada,' says Green Leader David Coon. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Higgs has another fundraiser scheduled for Toronto next month, a $1,000-per-ticket dinner and reception at the city's Albany Club.

The PC party began promoting Higgs to Conservatives across Canada last fall, creating a "Help Higgs Win" website that promoted his policy positions and described this year's New Brunswick election as a campaign of national importance.

In 2016, the PCs, in opposition at the time, complained about then-Liberal Premier Brian Gallant holding fundraisers in Vancouver and Calgary.

The criticism was because Gallant held the events during trips to the two cities on government business and at taxpayers' expense.

The PC Party paid for Higgs's travel to British Columbia and Alberta this week.

"We will continue to abide by all rules," Outhouse said in a post on the social media site X.

In 2016 the New Brunswick Liberals held a fundraiser in Fredericton that featured Gallant, two other Atlantic Liberal premiers and several federal Liberal cabinet ministers visiting the city for government meetings.

"If we want to give access to business stakeholders and whatnot to advance their projects, their causes, hey, rightfully so," then-cabinet minister Donald Arseneault said at the time.