Premier Kathleen Wynne says Ontario government policy has never been influenced by wealthy donors who paid up to $10,000 to attend intimate dinners and cocktail receptions with herself and various members of cabinet.
Addressing the matter for the first time since The Globe and Mail revealed that the governing Liberals held more than 90 such cash-for-access fundraisers over a two-year span, the Premier also reiterated her vow to put more restrictions on campaign donations in upcoming legislation.
"We have very clear processes in place for making those decisions around policy," Ms. Wynne said following an event in Toronto. "We're changing the rules on fundraising and political donations. And, you know, we've had a good conversation with the PCs, with the Green Party. The NDP hasn't taken part in that. I'm looking forward to the consultation that we'll have around the province when the legislation goes out with committee."
Asked how voters could be sure the fundraisers didn't influence government decisions, Ms. Wynne would only say: "Because we have a separate process that has nothing to do with the political donations."
The province's campaign finance system has been under intense scrutiny since The Globe revealed in March that the Liberals were holding small-scale fundraisers in which donors could pay thousands of dollars for exclusive access to Ms. Wynne and her cabinet.
The Liberals have promised to ban corporate and union donations, lower the cap on individual donations and restrict third-party advertising in legislation to be introduced this month. Last week, Ms. Wynne floated a proposal that would see individual donations capped at $1,550 annually and some of that money replaced by a per-vote taxpayer subsidy to political parties.
The revelations this week further stoked the opposition parties' demand for a public inquiry into the fundraisers.
"If the Liberals had nothing to hide, they would welcome a public inquiry," Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said. "The Liberal Party appears to have turned the government, the business of government, into a fundraising machine for the Liberal Party, which is not acceptable, and I think those 90 private fundraisers speak to that."
The Tories have also demanded the government release a list of all grants given by the province to private corporations so they can compare it against lists of party donors. While the Liberals have agreed to assemble a partial list, it may only include business subsidies given by the Ministry of Economic Development and may not include grants given by other arms of government.
NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh pointed to the guest lists at some of the events – including the banks that took part in the privatization of Hydro One and a lobbyist for private electricity companies – arguing these connections need to be investigated further.
"It looks like there are decisions being made that are not in the benefit of Ontarians, but certainly in the benefit of a handful of people. Those very same people are the ones that are involved in fundraising activities with the ministers that are responsible for that decision," Mr. Singh said. "There are too many coincidences there."
The New Democrats have so far refused to meet with Ms. Wynne to discuss campaign finance reforms, insisting instead that new rules should be crafted by a panel led by the non-partisan chief electoral officer. In an open letter to Ms. Wynne on Thursday, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she agreed with some proposed changes – such as banning corporate and union donations – but argued that some aspects of the proposal do not go far enough.
Ms. Horwath said the government should require politicians to disclose every time they are lobbied, something that could discourage small-scale cash-for-access fundraisers; close loopholes that allow donors to exceed maximum contributions by giving extra money to individual candidates and constituency associations; and put restrictions on taxpayer-funded advertising that promotes government programs ahead of elections.
On Tuesday, the Liberals used their majority to turn down an NDP motion for a public inquiry by a vote of 50-36.
Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake is reviewing a complaint from Mr. Singh that the fundraiser attended by executives from the Hydro One banking syndicate violated ethics rules.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli, who co-hosted the $7,500-a-plate event last December, shortly after overseeing Hydro One's initial public offering, both argued that they did nothing wrong because they did not personally choose the banks for the privatization. Instead, the banks were chosen by an expert panel led by former Toronto-Dominion Bank CEO Ed Clark, appointed by Ms. Wynne as an adviser on government assets.
"I was not involved in the selection of the active bookrunners for the Hydro One initial public offering (IPO) or the selection of the underwriting syndicate," Mr. Sousa wrote in a letter to the commissioner.