Kathleen Wynne is this close to ending cash-for-access. Don’t stop now

Posted on August 25, 2016 in Governance Policy Context

TheGlobeandMail.com – Opinion/Editorials
Aug. 24, 2016.   Editorial

In the wake of the Ontario Liberal Party’s nakedly corrupt cash-for-access scandal, it’s a relief to see the government of Kathleen Wynne beginning to lift its head out of the mire.

This week, House Leader Yasir Naqvi proposed new amendments to Bill 201, the government’s campaign-finance reform legislation, that would significantly lower the maximum allowable political donation from an individual – a huge step in the right direction.

The proposed annual limit will be $1,200 to any one party, and another $1,200 to its riding associations and registered nomination contestants. Voters will also be able to donate up to a maximum of $1,200 to the candidates of any party during an election campaign.

That’s a total of $2,400 to one party in a regular year, and $3,600 when there’s an election or by-election. It’s way down from the current maximum of $33,250, and also a critical decrease from the government’s original proposed maximum of $7,750.

If adopted, it will be lower than the current federal annual limit of $4,575 – and Ottawa’s rules are generally considered the benchmark. Bill 201 also follows Ottawa’s lead by banning corporate and union donations – another move in the right direction.

So: progress, and a lot of it. However, there are still two big problems with Bill 201.

One is the inclusion of a taxpayer-funded subsidy of $2.71 per vote; it would net the Liberal Party alone more than $5-million per year. Per-vote subsidies are pure cash grabs. Political parties can and do raise more than enough money directly from small donors.

The other is the lack of any regulation to prevent parties from selling access to politicians. The Liberals have done this, repeatedly, trading face time with ministers and the Premier for five-figure donations from companies that do business with Queen’s Park. The opposition parties do it, too.

Those opposition parties, the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives, have proposed amendments that would explicitly ban the practice. Mr. Naqvi should consider them. Alternatively, he could nip the problem in the bud by further lowering political donation limits. Combined with a ban on corporate and union donors, these two steps would end cash-for-access as a viable business.

The Wynne government, to its credit, is promising to significantly clean up Ontario’s political fundraising cesspool. But the government will blow it if, having come this far, it doesn’t take the final steps necessary to eliminate the source of the lingering stink.

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