DELTA, B.C. - British Columbia Liberal Leader Christy Clark says the difference between her party accepting donations from American lumber companies and NDP Leader John Horgan welcoming support from a forestry union with ties to U.S. industry is that she won't allow the money to influence her commitment to putting B.C. workers first.
Clark said Monday the New Democrats can't be trusted to side with British Columbians after it emerged that the salaries of some of the NDP's senior campaign staff were being paid by the United Steelworkers Union, which represents 40,000 forestry workers across Canada.
A spokeswoman for the NDP said a "handful of staff," including the party's deputy director, are being paid by the Steelworkers and "some other organizations."
The Steelworkers' American wing has sided publicly with U.S. President Donald Trump in supporting some protectionist policies that would hurt B.C.'s forestry sector. ElectionsBC figures show the New Democrats accepted over $672,000 from the Steelworkers last year.
"It is not the same," Clark said when asked how she could criticize the NDP while her Liberal party accepted $241,000 in donations from Weyerhaeuser dating back to 2005. The company has a large stake in the lumber industry in both Canada and the United States.
"I mean, everybody takes donations," she said. "But the thing is, does the donation change your decision? Does the donation mean you give up on B.C. forestry workers? In John Horgan's case it does."
A spokesperson from Weyerhaeuser was not immediately available for comment.
Horgan countered that Clark and the B.C. Liberals have been bought by the same "greedy lumber barons" she complained about last week in reference to the softwood dispute between Canada and the United States.
"For the B.C. Liberals to say from the first-class lounge that the big lobbyists and the big donors don't have influence, I’ll leave that to your readers to decide," Horgan said.
Campaign finances have emerged as a key issue in B.C.'s provincial election, with both parties accusing the other of selling out to influence-peddlers.
Clark has repeatedly rejected calls to prohibit corporate and union donations. Horgan has said an NDP government would ban big money from politics, but in the meantime his party must play by the current rules if it hopes to compete with the Liberals.
"The laws need to be changed." he said. "But I'm not going to put two hands behind my back when the most corporate-funded party in B.C. history is raking in money."
Green party Leader Andrew Weaver has called the New Democrats hypocrites for berating the Liberals over accepting large corporate donations.
"It's a bit rich for them to criticize the Liberals and then not take a look in the mirror and then say, 'You know what, what are we doing?' My question to them is, 'Who's bought you?'" Weaver said, after unveiling his party's platform at an event in Vancouver.
The Greens had a single politician in the legislature when the election was called two weeks ago and have refused all corporate and union donations in favour of individual contributions.
— By Geordon Omand in Vancouver. Follow @gwomand on Twitter.