Ontario’s political-donation rules badly need an update

Posted on June 6, 2015 in Governance Debates

TheGlobeandMail.com – Globe Debate/Editorials
Jun. 05, 2015.   Editorial

Kathleen Wynne, the Premier of Ontario, is a great democrat. Just look at what she said last week when asked whether her government would ever ruin democracy by stopping deep-pocketed corporations and powerful unions from donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to political parties every year.

“I have always held the position, and I have said this many, many times publicly, that I believe that individuals and organizations should have the ability to take part in the democratic process,” she said. “Some people and organizations can give money, some people and organizations can give time.”

This is very big of the Premier. One can clearly see from her words that if a person working for a large corporation, such as a brewery, called her office and said his company and its various subsidiaries would like to donate six figures to the Liberal Party, and some voter in Timmins called at the same moment and offered to volunteer licking envelopes, Ms. Wynne would be totally torn about which call to take first.

But while we respect Ms. Wynne’s dedication to the preservation of her version of democracy, she might want to consider another version, the one practised in Ottawa and many of the provinces. That’s the one where corporations and unions don’t get to make donations to political parties, or use loopholes that allow them to turn a maximum contribution of $9,975 into something 10 times that large via subsidiaries and local chapters.

Instead, only individuals can make donations, and there are limits on the amount. The maximum donation a person can make to a federal party, candidate or constituency association is $1,500. Alberta’s new NDP government has promised to align that province’s laws with the federal rules and put an end to union and corporate donations, which overwhelmingly benefited the Progressive Conservative Party for decades. In Quebec, meanwhile, corporate and union donations are banned, and the limit for individuals is $100.

Ms. Wynne needs to get on board with this other idea of democracy, where individual donors – actual voters – are the only donors, and they don’t have to compete with the massive cash resources of powerful vested interest for the governing party’s attention.

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