Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives raised a quarter of a million dollars in January, placing the party far ahead of its rivals in the first month since Premier Doug Ford’s government scaled back political financing restrictions.
So far this year, the PC Party of Ontario has reported $251,805 in contributions to Elections Ontario. By contrast, the provincial New Democratic Party collected $10,448 and the Liberal Party raised $13,916.
“That’s a lot of money when you compare it to the other two parties,” said interim Liberal leader John Fraser, who added he was surprised by the Tories' figure.
The PC government announced in November that it was relaxing a political financing law enacted under former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne. As of Jan. 1, MPPs can now personally attend fundraising events, a practice that the previous government banned in the wake of cash-for-access scandals.
The PC Party has moved quickly to take advantage of the new rules, holding several fundraisers headlined by MPPs that would not have been possible previously. The party is also sending e-mail appeals, including one Thursday that highlighted lower gasoline prices. "Think you can chip in a buck for the next election?” it said.
Mr. Ford kicked off the fundraising year at a $25-per-plate spaghetti and salad dinner in Kitchener that was attended by more than 200 people, according to party spokesman Marcus Mattinson. The Premier was to attend another pasta dinner on Thursday evening in Newmarket with Health Minister Christine Elliott.
Greg Rickford, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, was featured at an $800-a-ticket fundraiser last week at the private Albany Club in Toronto. Mr. Mattinson did not answer questions about how many people attended Mr. Rickford’s event. According to the PC Party’s reports to Elections Ontario, more than 40 people contributed $800 to the party in January.
Next month, supporters will pay $1,250 to attend a dinner headlined by Mr. Ford in Toronto. The event, which is being billed as the “biggest fundraiser in our Party’s history,” features a “VIP reception."
The NDP says the Conservatives have turned back the clock in Ontario to a cash-for-access system that allows parties to trade donations for face-time with the Premier and cabinet ministers.
“Doug Ford has brought back old Liberal fundraising rules that were abused because he wants to do the same thing,” said Lucy Watson, the Ontario NDP’s provincial secretary and executive director.
Ms. Watson said the NDP is “obviously looking to improve our numbers,” but noted the party raised $675,202 in the last quarter of 2018 – almost double the Progressive Conservatives’ total for the same period. The PCs raised the most money last year, at $5.5-million, followed by the NDP’s $3.4-million and the Liberals’ $1.4-million.
So far in 2019, the NDP has reported 77 donors, for an average contribution of $136. The Liberals have 23 donors who gave $605 on average. The PCs reported 553 contributions averaging $455. Political parties are required to report all donations of $100 or more to Elections Ontario within 10 business days of depositing the funds.
The Liberals’ Mr. Fraser, who supports the PC government’s move to allow MPPs to attend fundraisers, said contributions in January were driven by e-mail solicitations. He noted that it is typically a slow month because of intense fundraising efforts in December.
As part of its amendments to the Election Finances Act, the Ontario government increased the maximum allowable donation to $1,600 for each calendar year, up from $1,222, noting the province is now aligned with federal contribution limits. So far in 2019, the PCs have reported 16 maximum donations, the Liberals five and the NDP none.
However, unlike federal rules, political parties in Ontario are not required to report the names of individuals who attend fundraising events. The Ontario government eliminated a rule requiring individuals to fill out a form certifying that they were donating their own money, although contributors are still required to use their own funds.
The province is also phasing out taxpayer subsidies to registered political parties and constituency associations and will eliminate them by by 2022.
“We eliminated the prohibition on politicians attending their own fundraising events as we set out a timeline to phase out the flow of taxpayer dollars to politicians and their political parties. We believe politicians and parties should have to work to attract support and interest from voters, and Ontarians should have the choice of which parties and individuals they wish to support,” Jesse Robichaud, spokesman for Attorney-General Caroline Mulroney, said in an e-mail.