TORONTO – Ontario plans to tighten its rules on political donations starting this fall, but there is no commitment for an outright ban on contributions from companies and unions.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said Tuesday that the Liberal government will propose new rules to move away from corporate and union donations to political parties, which are banned at the federal level.
“The government will bring forward a plan in the fall, and that will include … transitioning away from corporate and union donations, lowering the annual donation limit, and at the same time keeping the transparency measures currently in place on real-time reporting,” said Wynne.
There will also be new rules on so-called third party advertising, which allowed some unions to join forces in the past few Ontario elections to outspend all the political parties with attack ads that targeted the Progressive Conservatives.
Wynne said some changes will be in place before the next election in 2018, but “probably not” all of them because there will have to be a transition period to allow political parties time to adjust to the new rules. Ontario needs to catch up with other provinces when it comes to regulating political donations, she added.
“We need to change those rules as the social mores change and as the expectations of the public change,” said Wynne.
The premier refused to confirm reports that her cabinet ministers have been given fundraising targets of $150,000 to $500,000 annually.
“What’s very important is that we understand what the rules are and that the people who need information – and in this case I would say the public – about who is donating and what the interaction is, that that is available,” she said.
The Progressive Conservatives said no one should hold their breath waiting for the Liberals to change the donation rules, and lashed out at the alleged fundraising quotas for cabinet ministers.
“The government should understand that democracy cannot be purchased, and that’s what we’ve been seeing in Ontario under Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne,” said PC critic Monte McNaughton.
Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner said he wants a firm commitment from Wynne to ban corporate and union donations to political parties.
“Vague promises to transition toward taking down the ‘For Sale’ sign at Queen’s Park sometime in the future is not good enough,” said Schreiner.
Wynne dismissed the suggestion that large corporate donors are buying access and influencing government policy. She said the Beer Store didn’t manage to block a move to allow some grocery stores to sell beer despite donating over $200,000 to the Liberals in the past couple of years.
“They were making big donations and having access to us, and in fact we did exactly what they didn’t want us to do,” said Wynne.
In Ontario, people, corporations or unions can donate $9,775 to a party each year, another $9,975 to the party for each campaign period, plus $6,650 annually to constituency associations of any one party.
They can also donate $6,650 to candidates of any one party in a campaign, but no more than $1,330 to a single candidate.
Federally, the maximum political contribution is $1,525 to each party, plus another $1,525 in total to all the registered associations and candidates of each party.
However, Ontario parties set their own limits for leadership campaigns. One young man made a single $100,000 donation to PC leadership candidate Christine Elliott in the 2015 campaign she lost to Patrick Brown.