Ontario Liberals dismiss independent review on campaign finance reform

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's speaks during a press conference regarding the political fundraising question at Queen's Park in Toronto on Monday, April 11, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO – The Liberal government dismissed a call Monday by Ontario’s opposition parties for a non-partisan process to tighten political fundraising rules, and instead asked for their input on draft legislation.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised legislation next month to ban corporate and union donations to political parties, lower individual contribution limits and regulate third-party advertising. There will also be new spending and donation limits for leadership campaigns and candidate nomination contests.

Wynne wants the bill to be in effect by Jan. 1, 2017.

Government house leader Yasir Naqvi wrote the Progressive Conservatives, New Democrats and Green Party of Ontario on Monday asking for a meeting to discuss the “substantive ideas” they want to see in the draft bill.

READ MORE: Tories, NDP and Greens want equal part in review of Ontario fundraising rules

“The recent attention that has been paid to political fundraising by all parties has understandably fuelled cynicism among the constituents we serve,” he wrote.

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“I see no better way to help restore the public’s trust than by coming together to do the job they elected us to do.”

The leaders of the three opposition parties held a rare joint news conference last week to call for an independent process on campaign finance rules, and don’t want to be in the position of reacting to legislation drawn up by the governing Liberals.

NDP house leader Gilles Bisson said Monday that he shares Naqvi’s “desire to restore the public’s trust” which he claimed “was broken following revelations that your government appears to have abused the rules by creating ministerial fundraising quotas and how to it chose to award government contracts.”

READ MORE: Ontario opposition parties say corporate grants should be made public

Bisson warned Naqvi that the Liberals’ “closed and partisan” process on campaign finance reform will do little to rebuild trust.

“By allowing one political party to draft the legislation behind closed doors and then conduct consultations in which that same political party has an absolute veto over any changes, damages the credibility of any reforms,” he said.

Naqvi’s letter also set out timelines for the bill, with four weeks of public hearings this summer on first reading, plus another round of hearings in the fall after the bill is amended for second reading.

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“The option of referring a bill to committee after first reading would enable members to examine the principle of a bill, and to propose amendments that may dramatically alter its scope,” wrote Naqvi.

“We would also be giving the public a rare opportunity to provide input on what the policy itself should be.”

Naqvi also said Ontario’s chief electoral officer, Greg Essensa, would be called on the first day of hearings, but the opposition parties say Essensa should lead the process to reform the fundraising rules, not simply appear before a committee.

READ MORE: Ontario opposition parties say corporate grants should be made public

After meeting recently with the opposition leaders, Wynne complained that they ignored the basic questions and instead wanted to talk only about the process, which she said would delay implementation of changes that all parties agree they want.

The Conservatives still want a public inquiry into fundraising quotas of up to $500,000 that were imposed on Liberal cabinet ministers, accusing them of soliciting donations from companies looking to get government contracts.

Wynne has cancelled all private fundraising dinners and receptions, and said cabinet ministers will no longer try to raise money from companies lobbying their ministry for business.

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