TORONTO – Premier Kathleen Wynne admits this isn’t the first time she’s hearing complaints about the fundraising methods of Ontario’s governing Liberals.
Former Liberal attorney general John Gerretsen, who did not run for re-election in 2014, told the premier before he left office that he was uncomfortable raising funds from lobbyists at private receptions, Wynne admitted Thursday.
“John Gerretsen is a friend, and he has expressed concerns about the way fundraising is done,” she said. “Some of the things that he has said in the past are considerations that we’re taking into account.”
Facing accusations the Liberals are selling access to the premier and cabinet ministers at expensive and exclusive dinners and cocktail receptions, Wynne promised to tighten the rules on donations to political parties.
New rules would be outlined this fall, she said, but likely would not be enacted before the next Ontario election in 2018.
“If you look at the federal system, where union and corporate donations are not allowed, that’s the model that we’ll be moving towards, but also recognizing that it took a number of years for the federal government to get to that point,” said Wynne.
Ontario will also review the rules on third party advertising during elections, and will look at lower caps for personal contributions to political parties, added Wynne.
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown supported the federal changes to ban corporate and union donations when he was an MP, and said “something must be done” in Ontario to stop lobbyists from buying time with cabinet ministers.
“The idea that a minister may make portfolio decisions based on who attends their fundraiser gives rise to the perception that you have to buy the ear of the government,” said Brown. “That’s not right.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said people need to know that Ontario politics “isn’t under the influence of big money,” but she wants Wynne to consult before changing the rules.
“The first step should be a meeting of the leaders of the three political parties currently represented at Queen’s Park, together with Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer so we can discuss the practical steps needed to move ahead,” said Horwath.
The non-profit group Democracy Watch said Horwath and Brown also hold high-priced, invitation-only fundraisers, and asked the Integrity Commissioner to declare such events as “illegal gifts” to politicians.
Federally, people can contribute a maximum of $1,525 to each party annually, plus another $1,525 in total to all the registered associations and candidates of each party.
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, but no more than $1,330 annually to a single constituency association. 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.
Ontario also has no limits on contributions to political leadership candidates.
Elections Ontario figures show the Liberals raised $9.01 million in 2015, which included two byelections, while the Progressive Conservatives received $6.7 million, almost half of that from their leadership race. The NDP raised just over $1.8 million in 2015.
The Liberals raised another $2.5 million from a $1,600-a-plate fundraising dinner Wednesday in Toronto, where some donors paid an extra $1,000 to get into a 30-minute “pre-reception” with Wynne.