Third-party spending caps in Ontario elections are overdue

Posted on June 8, 2015 in Governance Debates – Opinion/Editorials – It’s high time that Ontario joined Ottawa and other provinces in limiting spending by third-party groups during election campaigns.
Jun 08 2015.   Editorial

Until now, so-called third-party interest groups have been able to dodge election campaign spending limits in Ontario, enabling them to sway voters with lavish negative advertising campaigns.

The practice was so out of control that third-party groups have been known to outspend even political parties. That’s what happened in the 2011 election, when the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario poured $2.6 million into attacking the Progressive Conservatives. That was more than the NDP itself spent.

During that campaign, in fact, third-party advertising totalled $6 million, up from only $1.8 million in the 2007 election. And it’s only gotten worse. In the 2014 campaign third parties spent $8.7 million.
But come the next provincial vote in 2018, things may not be as easy for these interest groups. That’s because Premier Kathleen Wynne announced long overdue election changes last week that include new rules on third-party advertising.

Exactly how far the rules will limit spending by third parties will be known only when legislation is tabled in the fall. Still, it’s commendable that Wynne’s government is making changes when it stands to lose the most. The vast majority of third-party spending helped the Liberals by paying for TV ads aimed at the PCs.

The changes are long overdue. In 2013 Ontario’s chief electoral officer, Greg Essensa, was so alarmed by the increase in third-party spending that he asked the province to set up an independent body to find ways of reining it in.  As he pointed out, Ontario is increasingly isolated in allowing the uncontrolled practice. The federal government and six provinces — Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia — have strict controls on how much third-party groups can spend during elections. Ottawa, for example, caps it at $188,000, while it’s $30,000 in Alberta and just $5,000 in Manitoba.

It’s high time Ontario got on the bandwagon.

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