Ontario Liberals not keen on legislation to ban cash-for-access fundraisers

Government House Leader Yasir Naqvi suggested banning cash-for-access fundraisers could restrict the Ontario Liberal government from fundraising at all. Nathan Denette / File / The Canadian Press

Ontario’s Liberal government is not keen on banning cash-for-access fundraisers through legislation because it could restrict them from doing any fundraising at all, the government house leader suggested Wednesday.

The Liberals proposed legislation to reform election finances amid allegations they were selling access to cabinet ministers at high-priced dinners and receptions, though they denied that attendees at those functions influenced government decisions.

The government and the opposition parties submitted their proposed amendments this week to a committee studying the bill, and the NDP and Progressive Conservatives both called for a legislated ban on cash-for-access fundraising.

READ MORE: Ontario Liberals to introduce legislation to tighten political fundraising rules

Premier Kathleen Wynne said a code of conduct could cover it.

“Some of the (opposition) amendments apply only to some elected officials and not to other elected officials,” she said. “What’s important about the code of conduct is it applies to all parties and all elected officials.”

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Government House Leader Yasir Naqvi said the opposition proposals would ban the premier and cabinet ministers from doing any kind of fundraising.

“They’re only interested in that issue as it applies to government ministers and parliamentary assistants and the premier, but not themselves,” he said. “We think that is not fair. They do exert influence as opposition leaders, as critics, and the rules should apply to all MPPs equally.”

He suggested that addressing the issue through legislation, instead of a code of conduct, could be too restrictive.

READ MORE: Ontario set to ban corporate and union donations to political parties by Jan. 1, 2017

“You don’t want to craft rules by way of legislation, by example, that will prohibit every MPP who is also a minister to engage in even local riding association level of fundraising,” he said.

“We do have obligations to raise money for our riding associations to be ready for the upcoming elections.”

NDP critic Catherine Fife said a code of conduct would be more difficult than legislation to enforce and the issue must be tackled within the bill.

“When you’re a cabinet minister and you are soliciting funds from key stakeholders and asking huge amounts for that access, that is a fundamental issue of integrity for us,” she said.

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“If the government is taking issue with a PC or NDP amendment, then they can introduce an amendment and we would support it.”

READ MORE: Wynne to meet with opposition leaders amid furor over political fundraising

The Liberal amendments do include further lowering a cap on political donations.

Currently, the bill would ban corporate and union donations, while limiting individuals to donating $1,550 annually to a party. But in an election year, maximum allowable donations to a party’s candidates and constituency associations total $7,750.

The Liberals are now proposing to cap donations to a party, candidates and riding associations at $1,200 each, to total a maximum of $3,600 in an election year.

They also want to give each party a $2.71-per-vote subsidy – up from their originally proposed $2.26 – to offset that loss of income.

The committee meets again Monday to begin a clause-by-clause consideration of the bill.

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