Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has unveiled a slew of campaign finance reforms that would ban corporate and union donations, reduce the cap on individual donations to $1,550 from the current $9,975, and bring in multimillion-dollar taxpayer subsidies for political parties.
The new rules would also limit third-party advertising spending by corporations, unions and other groups to $100,000 for election periods and $600,000 for the six months before a campaign.
The Liberals will not reduce the cap on campaign spending for political parties – currently about $7.4-million – or require politicians to disclose meetings with lobbyists.
The Premier has been promising campaign finance reforms since March, when The Globe and Mail revealed secret fundraisers in which corporations and lobbyists paid thousands of dollars for exclusive access to Ms. Wynne and members of her cabinet.
While Ms. Wynne is proposing to overhaul the rules, B.C. Premier Christie Clark – who has faced complaints about her own participation in small, private fundraisers – is taking the opposite tack, saying on Thursday that the system in her province does not need to change. On Wednesday, B.C.'s conflict of interest commissioner dismissed complaints about the fundraisers, and the annual stipend Ms. Clark gets from the B.C. Liberal Party.
On Thursday at Queen's Park, Government House Leader Yasir Naqvi briefed his Progressive Conservative counterpart, Jim Wilson, on the reform plan, then released the proposals to the media. The Liberals are asking for feedback from other parties before tabling legislation later this month.
"We are moving forward with an open, transparent and credible process that seeks the engagement of the other parties and the public every step of the way," Mr. Naqvi said in a statement.
The New Democrats rejected the Liberals' invitation to attend the briefing. They argue a commission chaired by the chief electoral officer, not Ms. Wynne's government, should write the campaign finance rules.
"Today's meeting was not about real consultation with Ontarians, or civil society. The Liberal party wrote this legislation behind closed doors, and now they want to have a closed-door question-and-answer session," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement.
PC Leader Patrick Brown's office said the party needs more time to review the proposals before commenting.
The proposed rules would allow only individuals to donate. A person could give $1,550 annually to a political party; $1,550 annually to an individual candidate, with a maximum of $3,100 to all of a party's candidates; and $1,550 to a constituency association, with a maximum of $3,100 to all of a party's constituency associations.
These totals would rise every five years with inflation. Contributions to contestants in leadership campaigns would be capped at $1,550; previously, these had virtually no limits. The new rules would close a loophole that allowed extra donations to political parties during elections and by-elections. Donors will still be able to give more to individual candidates during elections and by-elections.
The Liberals are proposing to replace the lost private donations with an annual taxpayer subsidy to parties of $2.26 for each vote received in the previous general election. That would work out to $4.2-million for the Liberals, $3.4-million for the PCs and $2.6-million for the NDP. The subsidy would be cut to 75 per cent in the fifth year, followed by a review to determine whether to continue it.
Third-party advertisers would be limited to $100,000 in a writ period and $600,000 in the six months before, and the government would prevent them from co-ordinating their efforts with political parties. Currently, third-party advertising has no limits, and unions have bombarded the airwaves at election time with ads attacking the Progressive Conservatives. In the 2014 campaign, union umbrella group Working Families spent nearly $2.5-million on ads, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association spent $2.1-million, and the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario spent $1.2-million.
Rules will also be tighter for parties receiving loans, which often happens during election campaigns: They will no longer be able to use unions or corporations to guarantee the loans, and the money must be paid back within two years of the loan coming due. This could be tough for the NDP, which uses a holding company that owns the party headquarters to guarantee election loans.
The spending limits in an election – 80 cents per voter in ridings where a party runs a candidate and $1.28 per voter for the individual candidate – will stay the same. However, a political party would now be allowed to spend only $1-million in the six months before an election period. And people seeking nominations to run for a party would have spending limits: The changes would restrict the amount that can be spent to 20 per cent of the limit for that riding's candidate in the previous election.
The Liberals are also proposing to let the lobbyist registrar investigate violations of the rules, compel documents and testimony, and mete out punishments such as banning someone from lobbying for up to two years.
But they stopped short of requiring politicians to disclose their meetings with lobbyists, a requirement that exists in some jurisdictions – including the City of Toronto.