Tories want commission of inquiry into Ontario Liberal fundraising practices

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown smiles after delivering a speech at the Ontario Progressive Conservative convention in Ottawa, Saturday , March 5, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

TORONTO – The Progressive Conservatives are demanding a commission of inquiry into the fundraising practices of Ontario’s governing Liberals, similar to Quebec’s Charbonneau commission.

Premier Kathleen Wynne’s promise to change political financing rules to eliminate corporate and union donations “does not fix the years of shady (fundraising) quotas and tainted money” raised by Liberal cabinet ministers, said PC Leader Patrick Brown.

“The people of Ontario need to know if government contracts and grants were traded for donations to the Ontario Liberal Party,” Brown told the legislature.

“If this government has nothing to hide, will the premier call a commission of inquiry to investigate the connection between donations and government grants and policy changes?”

READ MORE: Kathleen Wynne cancels private political fundraisers for Liberals

Wynne ignored Brown’s repeated calls for a commission of inquiry during Wednesday’s question period.

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“The policies that we have developed as a government have not been dependent on who gives us money,” she said.

Deputy premier Deb Matthews insisted there was no need for an inquiry to determine if cabinet ministers crossed the line in giving out contracts to Liberal party donors.

“There is absolutely no evidence,” Matthews told reporters outside the legislature. “This is pure politics. They’re playing a game.”

Both the Tories and NDP said the fact Liberal cabinet ministers had fundraising quotas of up to $500,000 each gave the appearance they were selling access to lobbyists who want to do business with their ministry.

“I believe that the people of Ontario want the truth to come out,” said Brown. “They want to know what links there are between Liberal party donations and contracts and grants with the government of Ontario.”

READ MORE: Wynne says changes to political fundraising rules coming this spring

Wynne admitted the private fundraisers with cabinet ministers and lobbyists who paid big bucks to meet with them did not look good.

“I accept that’s that particular kind of function is not acceptable,” she said.

But despite her pledge to stop “private” fundraisers, Liberal cabinet ministers and the premier will continue to solicit donations at “public” dinners and receptions, said Wynne. The media would not be allowed to attend, but they would know about them.

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“Ministers can do small, high-value fundraisers, but there will be stipulations on that,” she said. “The event will be publicly disclosed before it occurs in a way that the media would consider legitimate.”

That means “people seeking contracts with the government are still going to be attending Liberal party fundraisers,” said Brown.

“The fundraising targets for Liberal cabinet ministers have not been stopped.”

READ MORE: Wynne invites opposition leaders to discuss political fundraising reform

The New Democrats, meanwhile, filed a complaint with the Integrity Commissioner because the finance and energy ministers attended a fundraiser with the bankers and lawyers who helped the government with the initial public offering of Hydro One.

“They’re the ones that benefit from the sale, and the ministers benefit from the fundraising,” said deputy NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.

“There’s a very tangible benefit to the syndicate of bankers and lawyers involved in this deal, and they are major donors to the (Liberal) party.”

Justice France Charbonneau led an inquiry into Quebec’s construction industry, which found widespread corruption and collusion in the granting of government contracts.

A former Quebec deputy premier was one of seven people arrested by the province’s anti-corruption squad last month after allegations that political financing and gifts were exchanged for lucrative government contracts.


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