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Wynne defends $6,000-a-head fundraising dinner

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli leave a press conference, Oct 8, 2013.

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne denies a $6,000-a-head dinner co-sponsored with a high-powered lobbying firm is selling access to herself and her cabinet ministers.

Wynne said it's her responsibility as a leader of a party to raise money, calling it part of the democratic process, and pointing out that all political parties in Ontario do both "high-end and low-end" fundraising.

"We need to follow the rules, and whatever the rules are, the money to run a party has to come from somewhere," she said Monday.

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"We have to be able to raise money in order to run campaigns, in order to get our message out into communities."

Wynne and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli will be attending the fundraising dinner co-sponsored by Sussex Strategy Group, and she said people get access to her all the time.

"I just spent two-and-a-half hours with mayors from across the region. They didn't pay a cent," Wynne said.

The premier declined to say who would be attending the dinner, but said all of the donations would be posted online as required.

Ontario's opposition parties offered only muted criticism of Wynne's fundraising methods because they do pretty much the same thing.

"I think what people want to see is that fundraising is not related to public policy decisions, so there's no tie between government decisions and who it is that gives them money," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

"The issue becomes what comes out of the access."

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Progressive Conservative house leader Jim Wilson said he's heard the Liberals have set minimum fundraising targets for every cabinet minister and for every backbencher who wants a promotion to the cabinet table.

"I think that's more reprehensible than the fact that parties do raise money and they do have dinners," said Wilson. "It looks bad when you have a single-interest dinner, and so I'm a little suspicious about what goes on behind closed doors."

Ontario political parties have been slow to consider following the federal government's lead to ban corporate and union donations, which makes fundraising a lot more difficult for politicians.

In Ontario, people, corporations or unions can donate $9,775 to a party each year, another $9,975 to the party for each campaign period, plus $6,650 annually to constituency associations of any one party, but no more than $1,330 annually to a single constituency association. They can also donate $6,650 to candidates of any one party in a campaign, but no more than $1,330 to a single candidate.

Federally, the maximum political contribution is $1,525 to each party, plus another $1,525 in total to all the registered associations and candidates of each party.

"Are they the right rules and do we need to change who can give what? Absolutely, I think we need to look at that," said Wynne. "That's the big question and I can tell you that we're engaged in discussing that at the provincial level."

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PC Leader Patrick Brown said he supported the federal legislation to change the rules on corporate and union donations when he was a Conservative MP, and would like to see similar changes in Ontario.

"I have long argued that we need to clean up political party fundraising in Ontario, and I stand by that," he said.

The NDP would not take a stand on banning corporate and union donations to political parties.

"At this point I'm waiting for the government to come forward with something," said Horwath.

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