Ban corporate and union political donations in Ontario

Posted on March 10, 2016 in Governance Debates – Opinion/Editorials – Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne should quit selling access to rich corporate donors at events such as a $6,000-a-plate dinner on Thursday.
Mar 09 2016.   Editorial

It’s bad enough that Premier Kathleen Wynne is once again raising money for the Ontario Liberal Party through an exclusive dinner organized for high-rollers — this time for those willing to pay $6,000 for the privilege of chatting over a meal on Thursday.

What’s especially galling is the attempt to justify selling access to Ontario’s premier and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli as “part of the democratic process.” If so, it’s a part in need of urgent reform.
But Wynne can’t seem to see this.

She has repeatedly made a point of attending private dinners with the corporate elite, especially in the energy sector, in exchange for cash for the Liberals. These people are willing to pay $6,000 a plate only because they expect it to be worth their while. And the very fact that such dinners keep happening indicates that someone believes they’re receiving value for their money.

That’s certainly the public’s perception, especially after events such as a $100,000 fundraiser for the Liberals held by privately owned Bruce Power in September, 2013.

As reported by the Star’s Robert Benzie, shortly after that cozy meal (also featuring Wynne and Chiarelli) the province announced it was shelving plans for new nuclear reactors that would have gone to Ontario Power Generation — Bruce Power’s rival.

At the time, Wynne insisted that nothing untoward happened and said she wasn’t worried that her government might appear to be for sale. But she should be concerned.

Since news broke of her first planned fundraiser with power industry executives — a $5,000-a-plate affair, billed as having “everyone seated around a single table,” just two months after she became party leader — Wynne has attempted to defend the inexcusable. None of her arguments are convincing:

“I spend all my days talking to people . . . people have access every single day to me.” True. But it’s ludicrous to assume that a comment from a person routinely encountered over the course of a day carries the same weight as that of someone paying $6,000 for the privilege of expressing it.

“It takes money to fuel the democratic process. That’s just the reality.” In fact the election process works fine at the federal level, at Toronto city hall, and in a host of provinces including Quebec and Alberta that have banned corporate and union contributions and put a tight cap on individual donations.

Sorry Premier, selling political access to a few movers and shakers who can afford it isn’t a hallmark of democracy. Ontario should take a lesson from other jurisdictions and end corporate and union contributions.

“We follow the rules that all the parties follow.” Here, Wynne is correct. Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown, for example, recently welcomed donors to a private meeting on a commitment to give $5,000 to his party. And the New Democrats, too, have indulged in fundraising dinners. But there’s a key difference between the Liberals and other parties at Queen’s Park: The opposition is in no position to change Ontario’s badly flawed rules.

Wynne could do so, but instead offers weak excuses while collecting fat pledges from moneyed donors.

This has gone on far too long. It’s vital for public decisions to be made “in the public interest, not in the interests of a few well-financed political supporters.”

That quote is from an Ontario Liberal campaign document dating from 2003, when the party pledged to take steps to limit the pull of money in politics. Unfortunately, 13 years later, its toxic influence continues.

According to Wynne, discussions are underway on enacting reform at the provincial level. But the question remains: how many years will it take — and how much cash will she raise — before the premier finally reduces the influence of money in Ontario politics.

Her actions thus far, as well as her excuses, are hardly encouraging.

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