Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is now promising to extend a ban on politicians attending fundraising events to all candidates for provincial office – not just sitting MPPs.
It is the Liberals' second pledge in as many weeks to toughen up new rules on campaign finance, and comes as the Premier tries to regain control of the issue with pressure mounting from the opposition and experts to clean up the system.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since her government's surprise move last week to ban cash-for-access fundraising, Ms. Wynne was asked to explain exactly what the ban would entail, who would be covered and if it would apply all the time or only during election periods.
"We don't have the amendment ready at this point," she said at Queen's Park on Wednesday. "It is about MPPs, but it will apply also in those situations with candidates. But we've got to work out the refinements; we don't have it drafted yet."
After a Globe and Mail investigation into the province's system of political fundraising, Ms. Wynne last spring introduced Bill 201, a package of campaign finance reforms.
But she initially resisted tackling cash-for-access – in which corporate leaders seeking government business pay up to $10,000 for private time with the Premier and cabinet ministers – even though the practice was the most controversial aspect of political fundraising in the province. Neither the initial draft of Bill 201 nor Liberal amendments to the proposed law tabled two weeks ago addressed cash-for-access.
Then last week, Government House Leader Yasir Naqvi announced the Liberals will introduce further amendments to Bill 201 this fall to prevent all provincial politicians from going to fundraisers. While they will still be allowed to raise money – such as through direct requests to prospective donors – they will be forbidden to offer access to themselves in exchange.
On Wednesday, Ms. Wynne said fundraising must be kept completely separate from lobbying.
"In order to make what is the most significant change in the rules in political fundraising that have been made in a generation, we need to … separate out the building of networks from the raising of money," she said. "We are going to bring forward another set of amendments after second reading that will incorporate that principle, of separating out the raising of money from the holding of events."
Asked to explain her sudden change of heart, Ms. Wynne said she decided to bring forward the fundraiser ban because opposition proposals to end cash-for-access did not go far enough. The Premier said opposition amendments to the bill covered only cabinet ministers and not all MPPs. Her claim, however, appears to be incorrect: Out of four cash-for-access amendments from the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP, two would have applied to all MPPs.
Ms. Wynne also did not explain why she did not ban cash-for-access in the original bill or in the Liberals' first set of amendments last month.
Before she announced that the ban would be extended to candidates, the Premier said all MPPs – whether a cabinet minister soliciting thousands of dollars for a private meeting or a backbench opposition MPP holding a barbecue – must stay away from fundraising events because every member of the legislature is a potential cabinet minister or premier.
"I'm sure everyone in every caucus believes that at some point there's a possibility that they will be a cabinet minister, they will be in government," she said. "I think the principle applies to everyone."