Wynne promises to end corporate, union donations this spring

Posted on in Governance Policy Context

TheGlobeandMail.com – News/National/Ontario
Apr. 04, 2016.   Adrian Morrow

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is promising to ban corporate and union donations this spring as she scrambles to contain the fallout from a cash-for-access scheme revealed by The Globe and Mail.

The Premier on Monday said she would speed up campaign finance reforms originally promised for the fall and took a harder line ‎on corporate and union donations than ever before.

After the Globe revealed last month that the Liberals hold secret, small-scale fundraisers in which corporations and lobbyists who do business with the government pay up to $7,500 for exclusive access to Ms. Wynne and cabinet ministers, the Premier promised legislation in the fall to “transition” away from corporate and union donations. But after several days of further revelations on fundraising, she has now gone further.

“We have moved up our intention to introduce legislation from the fall to the spring,” she said in the legislature Monday morning. “It’s pretty clear to me that we need to move to ban corporate and union donations. That, to me, I think is not a question at this point. I think it’s clear.”

Campaign finance dominated the daily question period, where Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown repeatedly asked Ms. Wynne if the Liberals have ever pressured corporations doing business with ‎the government to donate as a condition to get their issue heard – a practice corporations and lobbyists told The Globe happens regularly.

“Does the Premier believe that it’s appropriate for ministers to fundraise from stakeholders with active files from within their respective ministries, yes or no? Is that conduct appropriate?” he asked.

Ms. Wynne avoided answering the question, instead mocking Mr. Brown for not having raised campaign finance previously: “I do appreciate the member opposite’s newfound interest in this issue,” she said.

She also deflected a volley of questions from the NDP by making fun of the party’s relative lack of fundraising prowess compared to the Liberals.

“We know as a party that we have to fundraise in order to run our campaigns and do our work,” Ms. Wynne said. “I have no idea how it works in the church basements of the NDP.”

Ms. Wynne agreed Sunday to meet with Mr. Brown and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who have asked for open consultations on crafting new campaign finance rules.

Mr. Brown said Monday he favours closely following the federal system, which bans corporate and union donations, and caps individual contributions to political parties at $1,525.

He also said the province should ban cabinet ministers from soliciting donations from companies they regulate or give contracts to.

“Ministers and parliamentary secretaries should not be permitted to fundraise off their own departments. If they’re giving contracts out, they shouldn’t be getting either members of the Liberal Party or members of their staff fundraising off the same individuals,” he said. “It blurs all ethical lines when a minister who is going to decide on the contracts, make decisions on policy, is fundraising off those same stakeholders.”

He also called on Ms. Wynne to immediately order her cabinet ministers to stop doing this pending the new law. “Right now in the province, stakeholders are even nervous to say anything because they know that to be heard by this government, you need to participate in fundraising,” he said, adding the Liberals are “melding the Liberal Party and the government into one.”

Mr. Brown cited two fundraising events first revealed by The Globe: one in December in which some of the banks that took part in the lucrative privatization of Hydro One paid $7,500 to attend an event with Finance Minister Charles Sousa and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli, the ministers in charge of the sale; and one in February, in which energy companies were asked to pay $6,000 to have dinner, drinks and one-on-one access with Ms. Wynne and Mr. Chiarelli.

Ms. Horwath, meanwhile, called for the Premier to hold more open consultations before crafting new laws.

“This is not something that just political parties should be cooking up. First of all, the chief electoral officer should be in charge,” she said, adding the process for crafting new rules should be one that “engages civil society, engages labour and business and Ontarians and academia, so we have a system at the end that people are confident was well thought-out.”

Currently, corporations and unions can donate to political parties and politicians in Ontario. The province also has a relatively high donation cap of $9,975 annually, plus numerous loopholes that allow corporations and unions to give many times that amount, sometimes more than $100,000.

The province also places almost no restrictions on third-party advertising, allowing corporations and unions to spend as much money as they want on their own advertising at election time. The Working Families Coalition, a union umbrella group, spent $2.5-million in the 2014 campaign, mostly on attack ads against the PC party.

Also Monday, the Liberals introduced new legislation to allow all Ontario municipalities to ban corporate and union donations. Previously, only the City of Toronto, which banned such contributions in 2009, had this power.

The changes to the Municipal Elections Act are part of a package of local government reforms that also allow municipalities to adopt ranked-ballot voting, give them the power to curb third-party advertising in elections and cut municipal campaign periods by several months by opening candidate nominations in May of election years instead of January.

These changes will be in place before the next municipal elections in 2018.

Voting reform activists in Toronto have long called on the province to allow for ranked ballots at the local level. They contend such a voting system would be more democratic by eliminating the threat of vote-splitting and would encourage more positive campaigns, since candidates would have to vie for their opponents’ supporters’ second and third-choice votes.

“We’re thrilled to finally see this legislation move forward,” Katherine Skene, co-chair of the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto said in a statement. “Ranked ballots would make a huge difference in Toronto, both for the campaign period and election outcomes. We encourage Toronto’s city council to use the introduction of this legislation as an opportunity to revisit the issue of electoral reform.”

It will now be up to municipalities to decide whether to adopt ranked ballots or stick with first-past-the-post.

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One Response to “Wynne promises to end corporate, union donations this spring”

  1. The banning of corporate and union donation to political parties is a good thing and a step in the right direction for equality among all political parties. It is no secret that to win election a party needs money; this is even stated within the article. Political leaders are suppose to represent the whole population. However, when only wealthy parties are getting into power there ends up being a disconnect between those who are leaders of the country and the middle to lower classes. It is hard for leaders to come up with social polices to better the lives of the less fortunate if they do not truly understand what their needs are. The other scary component to this is that is corporation and unions are donating a lot of money they may have some say in what the leaders do. These corporation would most likely be against spending government on welfare and may push leaders against that type of legislation. I do believe that banning or putting a cap on donations would help to solve these problems. Perhaps maybe all campaigns should have a limit on how much money they can spend. This would allow an equal playing field for all parties, would limit the input of big corporation in the government, and would also allow votes to see how parties spend their money.

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