If Kevin Falcon wins the provincial Liberal leadership race, he'll have the business community to thank for it. The former cabinet minister says he won't feel beholden to that community 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 32 business leaders* who are endorsing Mr. Falcon's leadership bid.
Many of those leaders and their businesses have a past record of supporting the Liberals, having contributed more than $850,000 to the party and its candidates between 2005 and 2009 according to a review of Elections British Columbia filings. And now, Mr. Falcon has said they're signing-up party members in support of his leadership bid.
But the rub, according to Mr. Simpson and Ms. 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 Coastal Contacts Inc. and Rocky Mountaineer Railtours Ltd. have done so in the past.
Seaspan is looking for a "competitive regulatory environment" for "commercial goods movement to Vancouver Island" - a reference to the company's accusation British Columbia Ferry Services Inc. is undercutting its business moving big rig trailers across the Georgia Strait. Meanwhile, The Beedie Group has talked to the government about "municipal land development corporations."
In an interview with Public Eye, Mr. Simpson said, in the future, British Columbians could question whether there's a correlation between Mr. 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 Ms. 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 Public Eye, Mr. 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."
Indeed, for Mr. Beedie's part, he said, "I'm doing this because I firmly believe that he'd be the best premier. I would never expect any benefit to me or to my company or anyone around me and I would never ask for one or expect it. And, quite frankly, there's nothing really - with all do respect to the premier or a person in government - they can do to help my company."
As for Ms. Huntington's suggestion there should be campaign finance reform - something none of the Liberal leadership candidates have proposed - Mr. 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."
* = Just prior to publication, Falcon 20/20 announced 18 additional members.
Past Liberal donations from Falcon 20/20 members and their businesses
Rocky Mountaineer Railtours Ltd. executive chairman Peter Armstrong ($196,170)
Anthem Properties Group Ltd. president and chief executive officer Eric Carlson ($109,020)
Keg Restaurants Ltd. chairman, president and chief executive officer David Aisenstat ($95,132.66)
The Beedie Group president Ryan Beedie ($92,109)
Earls Restaurants Ltd. chief executive officer Stan Fuller ($86,000)
Macdonald Development Corp. owner Rob Macdonald ($66,050)
Washington Marine Group executive chairman Kyle Washington ($47,709)
Sandman Hotel Group chairman and chief executive officer Tom Gaglardi ($35,755)
Cactus Club Restaurants Ltd. president and founder Richard Jaffray ($31,240)
Coastal Contacts Inc. chair and chief executive officer Roger Hardy ($17,800)
OpenRoad Auto Group president and chief executive officer Christian Chia ($16,330)
Amica Mature Lifestyles Inc. chief executive officer Samir Manjim ($15,000)
InnHouse Licensed Retail Concepts Ltd. president and chief executive officer Salim Karim ($13,325)
Frontier Dental Laboratories Inc. chief executive officer Paolo Kalwa ($7,500)
O'Neill Hotels and Resorts Whistler Ltd. president and chief executive officer John O'Neil ($7,000)
TomTar Roofing and Sheet Metal Ltd. president Tom Greenough ($5,250)
Cunningham Group Inc. president Lorraine Cunningham ($5,000)
Hemmera Envirochem Inc. president Paul Hemsley ($4,048)
Wakefield Home Builders Inc. president Lane Sparling ($1,700)
BuildDirect Technologies Inc. chief executive officer Jeff Booth ($500)
Wear Else Fashions Inc. president Zahra Mamdani ($500)
Bankers Petroleum Ltd. chairman Bob Cross
Canadian Utility Construction Corp. president and chief executive officer Tom Kramer
Curious Mind Productions Inc. chief executive officer Leah Costello
Glastech Contracting Ltd. president Steve Ashforth
Innovative Fitness Inc. founder Matt Young
JOEY Restaurant Group president and chief executive officer Jeff Fuller
MacNeill Yakamoto Recruitment Group founder Sarah MacNeill
MAC Marketing Solutions Inc. founder and president Cameron McNeill
Network Bonding and Insurance Services Inc. chief executive officer John Vickerstaff
Ondine Biomedical Inc. chief executive officer Carolyn Cross
Travelers Financial Corp. chief executive officer Jim Case