TORONTO – Premier Kathleen Wynne took another step Tuesday to try to stop complaints about the ways Ontario Liberals solicit donations, announcing she was cancelling all her “private” fundraising events.
“I think we have to lead by example, and that’s why I’ve made the decision to immediately cancel upcoming private fundraisers that I attend,” Wynne said during question period. “I’ve also asked the same of my ministers.”
Wynne has been scrambling to defuse rising criticism about fundraising quotas of up to $500,000 each for Liberal cabinet ministers, and started by promising new legislation to ban corporate and union donations to political parties.
“I think it’s important that we get this right,” she said. “We’ve moved the introduction of the legislation up from the fall to the spring so that we can have a good opportunity for the committee to talk to people around the province.”
However, Wynne’s office said the Liberals would continue to hold fundraising events that have been publicly advertised, but cabinet ministers would no longer try to solicit donations from groups looking to do business with their ministry.
The Progressive Conservatives went on the attack again Tuesday, accusing the Liberals of letting lobbyists who want government business buy access to cabinet ministers at expensive fundraising dinners and receptions.
“Seven renewable energy companies donated $255,000 to the Liberal Party over the last few years,” said PC Leader Patrick Brown.
“All seven of those companies were awarded contracts from the minister of energy a couple of weeks ago – for energy we don’t even need. Would all of those contracts have been approved if it wasn’t for a quarter of a million dollars in donations to the Liberal Party?”
The Liberals “blurred all ethical lines” between the government and the party with their fundraising activities, added Brown.
“What is a private fundraiser? Is the Liberal version of a private fundraiser where they negotiate contracts, the terms or the size of contracts,” he asked.
“I was shocked to learn about all the secretive, private fundraising they’re doing.”
Wynne’s office said last week’s Heritage Dinner in Toronto, which raised $2.5 million for the Liberal Party, was a public event – the media were invited – and would not have been cancelled under the premier’s new directive.
“It’s a little bit rich to announce it after one of the largest fundraisers we’ve ever seen, after they’ve essentially milked everyone that the province does business with,” said Brown.
“The fundamental problem here, I can’t stress this enough, is that ministers should not be fundraising off stakeholders within their departments.”
Brown also dismissed Liberal calls to cancel his planned fundraisers.
“We in the Opposition are not awarding contracts. It is the government,” he said.
“The crux of the problem is that donors are feeling that to have the ear of the government that any group has to donate to the Liberal Party.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath again pressed Wynne to have Ontario’s chief electoral officers lead the review of political fundraising rules.
“I believe that the premier putting herself in charge of making the rules that govern political campaigns is just wrong,” Horwath told the legislature.
“Using the government’s majority to force through changes on how our democracy is financed will only lead to more public cynicism.”
Wynne has said there will be a transition period for the legislation that bans corporate and union donations and imposes new limits on personal contributions to political parties, so all the changes won’t be in effect for the next election in 2018.