Wynne says Ontario will ban corporate and union donations

Premier announced rules despite outrage from opposition party leaders that their concerns were ignored

Adrian Wyld/CP

Adrian Wyld/CP

TORONTO — Premier Kathleen Wynne announced new rules Monday for political donations in Ontario, but the opposition parties say the Liberal government is ignoring their concerns.

“I am committed to changes in election and political party financing in Ontario,” Wynne said after meeting Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in her office.

“I believe it is important that these changes be in place or significantly underway before the June 2018 election, with initial changes legislated for Jan. 1, 2017.”

One change that will take effect next year is a ban on corporate and union donations to political parties, something all three leaders seemed to agree on during the brief meeting, added Wynne.

“This is a plan that I actually think is non-partisan,” she said. “And I have to say there wasn’t disagreement on substance. There weren’t any of these issues that they reacted to negatively or said they didn’t agree with.”

Brown and Horwath both said they were very disappointed after their meeting with the premier, which the PC leader called a sham and a farce.

“The premier is afraid of an open and transparent process to develop the rules,” he said.

Brown has been demanding an inquiry into fundraising quotas of up to $500,000 that were imposed on Liberal cabinet ministers, but came away disappointed after meeting Wynne.

“The premier is petrified of a public inquiry,” he said. “I could see the fear in her eyes, and the meeting immediately went south after that.”

The NDP wanted Wynne to allow Ontario’s chief electoral officer to lead the review of campaign financing rules, but the premier said that would only lengthen the process before the reforms can be implemented.

Horwath said she was angry, but not surprised.

“She did exactly what we feared she was going to do, and that is lay out a Liberal agenda that perhaps ourselves and others may have an opportunity to tweak that agenda,” she said.

The New Democrats filed a complaint with Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner last week over a fundraiser for the energy and finance ministers put on by the syndicate behind the Liberal government’s sale of Hydro One.

“Whether it’s through the Integrity Commissioner or through a public inquiry, Ontarians need to know what’s going on here,” said Horwath.

Related: How Ottawa became a model in eliminating corporate donations

Meanwhile, Wynne wasn’t sure if there should be a per-voter subsidy from taxpayers to help political parties offset the drop in donations from corporations and unions, or how long such a subsidy should last.

“Those are questions that we haven’t landed on,” she said. “I certainly do think it’s something that we have to look at.”

Wynne said legislation will be introduced in May that reduces the maximum allowable donations from individuals to the range of the federal limit of $1,500 a year, and also imposes maximum spending limits on third-party advertising.

She also called for tighter political donation rules for byelections, when parties can raise more money than they are allowed to spend, and on leadership races, where there are virtually no contribution limits.

Wynne admitted she wrote her program for electoral finance reform before going into the meeting with Brown and Horwath.

“I wrote it on Saturday at my home,” she told reporters. “I sat down and thought about what it is I wanted to say, and I’m bringing it to you because it’s what I presented to the opposition leaders.”

The premier said Brown and Horwath wouldn’t give her any feedback on the proposed changes and instead wanted to talk about the process, which she said would only delay implementation of the needed reforms.

“The fact is that the opposition leaders weren’t interested in engaging on the substance,” said Wynne.

Earlier Monday during question period, Wynne flatly rejected Brown’s allegations that donors to the Liberal Party are able to influence government policy.

“Political donations do not buy policy decisions in my government,” she told the legislature. “Any innuendo or suggestion to the opposite is false.”