Ontario's fixed election date will move to the spring and the number of seats in the legislature will increase from 107 to 122, under proposed electoral law reforms to be tabled by the province's Liberal government.
Premier Kathleen Wynne on Thursday also promised to bring in rules on third-party advertising during campaigns – such as the avalanche of union attack ads targeting the Progressive Conservatives in last year's election – but has not yet decided exactly what the rules will be. Her reforms will also include allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to register to vote as a means of encouraging them to get their names on the rolls early.
But Ms. Wynne shied away from banning corporate and union donations, which are prohibited at the federal level. The Premier said allowing big corporations and powerful unions to give large sums of cash to political parties allows them to engage in the democratic process.
"I have always held the position, and I have said this many, many times publicly, that I believe that individuals and organizations should have the ability to take part in the democratic process," she said. "Some people and organizations can give money, some people and organizations can give time."
The Liberals currently out-fundraise the other two major parties, disproportionately benefiting from corporate donations. At the federal level, the restrictions on such contributions have hurt the Liberals, who have proven less adept at raising small sums of money from individuals than the Conservatives.
Ontario's rules theoretically cap donations from corporations, unions and individuals at $9,300 annually, but they contain numerous loopholes that allow companies and unions to donate many times that amount. A corporation, for instance, is allowed to donate the maximum amount through all of its subsidiaries, and a union can do the same with its various locals. Also, the finance laws allow for extra donations during writ periods – general elections and by-elections.
These loopholes mean the largest corporations and unions can donate over $100,000 in a single year.
Ms. Wynne's proposed changes to the election date and seat count would kick in at the next election in 2018.
The 15 new seats in the legislature will come entirely in Southern Ontario, primarily in Toronto and its suburbs. The change is in line with the increase in House of Commons seats after this fall's election.
Northern Ontario will keep the 11 seats it currently has, which is one more than it has federally.
The current fixed election date mandates elections every four years in October. The proposal would move that to the spring, so that future elections do not conflict with municipal ones (which are held in the fall) and also take advantage of warmer weather.
The lieutenant-governor does, however, retain the right to dissolve the legislature early, meaning the Premier can still call a snap election.