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Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says her government is committed to changing the rules around campaign financing, but stopped short of committing to a ban on cash-for-access events.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne is refusing to ban cash-for-access fundraising immediately amid mounting criticism over the controversial practice.

Responding on Thursday for the first time to a Globe and Mail investigation into cash-for-access events – in which corporate and union leaders paid up to $10,000 to spend time with Ms. Wynne and members of her cabinet – the Premier said she was "very open to having that conversation" on the future of the practice, but repeatedly would not commit to ending it.

A legislative committee is reviewing the Liberals' campaign finance reform, Bill 201. The proposed law would end corporate and union donations, and reduce contribution limits, but would not ban paying for access.

Investigation: An inside look at cash-for-access Ontario Liberal fundraisers

"I look forward to what comes back from the discussion. All the parties are sitting on that committee and giving input, and people are coming from all parts of the province to make comments," Ms. Wynne told reporters. "I look forward to the amendments."

The Liberals hold a majority of seats on the committee, so amendments need Ms. Wynne's approval.

Asked about the controversy's impact on her government's reputation, the Premier replied: "We're changing the rules. We recognize that the rules need to be modernized. That's why the legislation is out for consultation after first reading."

Ms. Wynne promised on Thursday that her party would not exploit a loophole in the current campaign finance law that would allow donors to give double their regular annual contribution during an upcoming by-election campaign in the Scarborough-Rouge River riding.

"We have made the decision that our party is not going to use the rule that's been in place for many years in terms of being able to double the donations," Ms. Wynne said.

The Globe last month reported that in Ms. Wynne's first three years as Premier, her party has held 223 fundraisers, of which 159 were private affairs for 50 or fewer guests. Representatives of many businesses seeking contracts or policy decisions from government attended these events, including construction firms, electricity companies, property developers and the pharmaceutical and insurance industries.

The Globe has also reported that top advisers to cabinet ministers often encourage the companies whose files they handle to pay thousands of dollars to attend events with their ministers.

The revelations have touched off a furor at Queen's Park.

NDP finance critic Catherine Fife lodged a complaint with the province's integrity commissioner, accusing Liberal ministers of breaching parliamentary ethics rules by having their staff members do fundraising for them. Ministers, she wrote, made companies think their party fundraisers were "connected to the business of" government and "intentionally created the impression that Stakeholder Relations were contingent on political contributions."

The Liberals say no contracting or policy decisions made by ministers or their staff were influenced by political donations.

The Progressive Conservative members of the committee examining Bill 201 have called for the legislation to be toughened to ban cash-for-access events. The Tories favour laws modelled on the federal code of conduct for cabinet that would ban politicians from raising money from people seeking contracts or who work in industries the politicians regulate.

"This legislation is absent as compared to the federal guidelines, federal guidelines where minsters are prevented from inviting or encouraging people that they do business with, stakeholders who they have jurisdiction over, absolutely preventing them from being engaged in any sort of political fundraiser," PC MPP Randy Hillier told a Queen's Park press conference last month.

York University professor Robert MacDermid, a campaign finance expert, has proposed that politicians be required to disclose publicly every time they are lobbied.

Former Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin has called on the province to create an anti-corruption watchdog with the power to investigate politicians, recommend criminal charges and introduce reforms to stop unethical behaviour.

In an op-ed for the Toronto Sun, Mr. Marin said the agency could be modelled on Quebec's Unité permanente anticorruption (UPAC), a 350-person special police squad. This spring, officers charged seven politicians in connection with a scandal over campaign donations and corruption.

"Instead of bland, self-serving statements by the Ontario government to move along, nothing to see here, whenever the ethics of government are raised, is it not time our premier puts money where her mouth is and creates our very own version of UPAC?" Mr. Marin wrote.

Amid the controversy, political fundraising continues. An invitation for the Liberals' annual Patio Party on Wednesday at the TIFF Lightbox listed several lobbyists as members of the event's organizing committee.

And in an e-mail to Progressive Conservative party members titled, "No cash? No access," PC Ontario Fund chairman Tony Miele deplored the Liberals' fundraising tactics – before asking for contributions to help fight them.

"I'm emailing you today to ask you to click here and give a small donation – help us end this abysmal practice," Mr. Miele wrote. "We ask you to please consider a $50 donation…a donation that will help us defeat a cash-for-access Liberal government, and elect an access-for-everyone PC Government."

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