TORONTO — Ontario’s Liberals deflected calls for a public inquiry into their fundraising practices Thursday by accusing the Opposition of raising issues in the legislature on behalf of donors to the Progressive Conservative party.
Deputy premier Deb Matthews called it “pretty strange” that the first bill introduced by PC Leader Patrick Brown after he was elected as an MPP was to lower estate taxes.
“The only people who would be advocating for that are the tax planners, and … he’s got substantial donations from those tax planners,” she said.
Brown also asked questions in the legislature about doctors’ pay after the Ontario Medical Association sponsored a PC convention, added Matthews.
“The OMA sponsors the party convention and the next thing you know, they’re standing up, demanding that doctors be paid more,” she said.
“What I’m saying is they’re asking what I consider questions that don’t serve the public interest, but do serve the interests of their big donors.”
Brown called the Liberals desperate, and said they’re trying to “dodge, deflect and deny” instead of allowing a public look into fundraising quotas of up to $500,000 that were imposed on each Liberal cabinet minister.
“They’re stunned by media reports that show they turned government business into a money-making machine for the Liberal party,” he said.
“The reason that they don’t want to answer the question on a public inquiry is because they are petrified of it.”
The Liberals made it clear they don’t want an inquiry similar to Quebec’s Charbonneau commission, which found corruption in the awarding of government contracts in that province. Matthews called the idea of an “a big diversion.”
The Liberals have already cancelled all “private” fundraisers for Premier Kathleen Wynne and her cabinet ministers, and promised legislation this spring to ban corporate and union donations to political parties and lower contribution levels for individuals.
“We’ve already made changes on our side in our fundraising practices,” said Matthews. “The Opposition has not.”
The Liberals’ fundraising changes don’t mean there wasn’t something wrong with cabinet ministers soliciting money from firms that were hoping to do business with their departments, said Brown.
“Just because this government brought in new rules for Ornge Air, it didn’t stop the OPP from investigating a shady business deal,” he said.
“Just because the government brought in new rules for saving emails, that didn’t stop the OPP from charging senior Liberal staffers David Livingston and Laura Miller for wiping away evidence of a scandal.”
The New Democrats also raised the police investigations into Ornge, the charges laid against a Liberal organizer in connection with a 2015 byelection in Sudbury, and the charges laid in the deletion of emails on the Liberals’ 2011 decision to cancel two gas plants at a cost of up to $1.1 billion.
“After facing a criminal investigation for the Ornge scandal, a criminal investigation for the gas-plant scandal and a criminal investigation for the Sudbury bribery scandal, the same premier has now created a fundraising scandal that’s shaking people’s faith in our democracy,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told the legislature.
“People see a system here in Ontario where wealthy donors with deep pockets get one level of access to the decision makers, and everyone else gets shut out.”