Ontario is moving to tighten the rules around political fundraising with legislation that bans corporate and union donations and reduces the amount individuals can contribute.
The Liberal government is also proposing that taxpayers give each party a $2.26 per vote subsidy each year to offset the lost donations from companies and unions.
Government house leader Yasir Naqvi says democracy is not free, and promises the per vote subsidy would be reduced each year and reviewed after five years to see if it’s still necessary.
Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner says the per vote subsidies will cost about $10.9 million a year, less than the $13 million the province currently spends to provide tax rebates for political contributions.
But Schreiner complains the plan would allow individuals to contribute $7,750 to each party and its candidates and riding associations in an election year, and says it doesn’t impose spending limits on the political parties.
Naqvi says the bill is just a starting point for discussion, and points out it will get five weeks of public hearings this summer and will be sent for another round of consultations after second reading in September.
“Taking this step will give committee members the ability to examine the scope and the principle of the bill,” he said. “They will have the opportunity to change it and shape it based on what they hear in their consultations.”
The government consulted the Progressive Conservatives and Green Party on the changes, but the New Democrats refused to participate because they wanted an independent review of fundraising rules, not legislation drafted by the Liberals.
The fundraising rule changes come as the Liberals fend off allegations they sold access to cabinet ministers at expensive fundraising dinners and receptions.
Premier Kathleen Wynne has cancelled all the private fundraising events for her and Liberal cabinet ministers, and said they would no longer solicit donations from companies looking to do business with their respective ministries.
Current political donation limits in Ontario are $9,975 for a political party, $6,650 to the candidates of a party, and $6,650 to the constituency associations of a party, but the rules often allow multiple contributions.
The legislation would also impose contribution and spending limits for the first time in Ontario on leadership contests and candidate nominations.
It also proposes a new spending limit of $1 million on political advertising by a party in the six months before a scheduled general election.
The legislation also imposes new regulations on third party advertising, with a maximum spending limit of $100,000 in an election period, including a limit of $4,000 per riding. Third parties would face a spending limit of $600,000 in the six months before a general election is called, including a limit of $24,000 per riding.
Ontario’s current rules require third parties to register and report their advertising expenditures during elections, but there are no limits on what they can spend.
A number of unions had joined together in the past few Ontario elections under the banner of Working Families, and outspent the political parties in each campaign with attack ads targeting the Progressive Conservatives.
Naqvi wants to have the new political fundraising rules in effect before the next election in June 2018.