Ontario should clean up donations to political parties

Posted on January 14, 2016 in Governance Debates

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – Ontario is long overdue for a major reform of how the province’s political parties and election campaigns are financed.
Jan 13 2016.   Editorial

Slowly, painfully, Ontario’s Liberal government is easing its way towards a long-overdue reform of the province’s scandalously loose election financing rules.

Premier Kathleen Wynne agreed this week that there are “good questions” to be asked about why a government-created agency charged with recycling tires has been funneling part of the “eco fees” it collects from all of us to the Liberals and other political parties.

She now wants that to be part of a review of so-called third-party contributions to parties that the government has been quietly undertaking since last June.  That’s fine, as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

The fact is Ontario is long overdue for a major reform of how our political parties and election campaigns are financed. There should be much stricter controls on spending by third-party interest groups. And there should be an outright ban on political contributions from corporations and unions.

Instead of settling for a low-key review of the rules, the government should make cleaning up our election financing system a priority. It should bring Ontario in line with other governments – including Ottawa, Quebec, Manitoba and most recently Alberta – that have changed their rules to limit the impact of money on elections.

When it comes to running fair elections untainted by outside influence, Ontario should be a leader, not a laggard.

We wouldn’t be in this mess if Wynne and the Liberals had heeded calls from influential voices like Ontario’s chief electoral officer, Greg Essensa. He has been pushing for limiting spending on election ads by interest groups, and last March warned officially that it risks “creating an uneven playing field that can potentially affect electoral outcomes.”

That followed the 2014 provincial election, in which groups like the anti-Conservative Working Families coalition spent close to $9 million on campaign ads. Shockingly, Ontario puts no limit on such spending, which can flood the airwaves at election time.

The issue deserves new attention this week for a couple of reasons.

First, the Star’s Moira Welsh revealed that the Ontario Tire Stewardship, the government-created agency charged with recycling tires, has been donating part of the eco fees it charges consumers to both the Liberals and the Ontario NDP.

The amounts are small – just a few thousand dollars. But it’s absurd that an organization set up by the government itself should take money that consumers thought was going to recycling and funnel it to a political party. All so its leaders can grab a few minutes of face time with the politicians who set it up in the first place.

Second, the Star’s Queen’s Park columnist, Martin Regg Cohn, reports that Wynne’s ministers are struggling with unofficial fundraising quotas that have them out grubbing for corporate and union donations in addition to their onerous official duties.

The likes of Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid and Health Minister Eric Hoskins are trolling for corporate and union donations to the Liberal campaign chest years before the next election is due. It’s not just a sad use of their time; it makes the politicians beholden to those with deep enough pockets to donate significant amounts of cash.

Once upon a time Ontario’s Liberals realized this was wrong. When they were in opposition, way back in 2003, the party promised reform and affirmed that “public decisions must be made in the public interest, not in the interests of a few well-financed political supporters.”

The Wynne government should rediscover that reformist spirit and conduct a root-and-branch overhaul of election funding.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2016/01/13/ontario-should-clean-up-donations-to-political-parties-editorial.html >

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