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Politics Wynne vows to cancel private fundraisers, asks same of ministers

Premier Kathleen Wynne said this week that Ontario will tighten rules governing political fundraising.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Premier Kathleen Wynne is promising to cancel all of her private fundraisers and is asking cabinet ministers to do the same pending new campaign finance laws to be introduced this spring.

Ms. Wynne unexpectedly announced the move in the legislature during Question Period on Tuesday.

"I've made the decision to immediately cancel upcoming private fundraisers that I attend," she said. "I've also asked the same of my ministers."

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It is the second abrupt policy change in as many days. On Monday, the Premier surprised the House by moving up campaign finance legislation from the fall to the spring and vowing to ban corporations and unions from contributing.

Ms. Wynne has been trying to contain the fallout from a cash-for-access scandal uncovered by The Globe and Mail last month, in which corporations and lobbyists pay thousands of dollars for face-time with Ms. Wynne and her cabinet at small-scale, unpublicized fundraisers.

Ms. Wynne's edict covers private fundraisers not advertised to the public. Larger, well-publicized events – such as last week's Heritage Dinner, which raised $2.5-million for the Liberals – can go ahead for now.

Neither Ms. Wynne nor her cabinet could provide a specific example of an event that will be cancelled. The Premier's office would not provide a list of her upcoming private fundraisers.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa and Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid said they would follow Ms. Wynne's directive – but said they could not remember if they have any fundraisers planned.

"I've already advised my campaign team to look at what private fundraisers are being scheduled and to cancel them. I don't know which ones they are," Mr. Sousa said.

Mr. Duguid added: "We'll take our direction from the Premier on that. If I have any scheduled, and I'm not sure that I do … we'd be cancelling."

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The offices of Health Minister Eric Hoskins and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli did not respond to questions on whether they would cancel events.

The Globe has independently learned at least three fundraisers are planned for Mr. Duguid in the coming weeks: one on April 5 at Tetra Kitchen and Vines in Bowmanville, Ont.; and one on April 19 at the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto. Also lined up is a cocktail reception on May 18 on the John Street terrace of the Rogers Centre followed by watching the Blue Jays take on the Tampa Bay Rays from 200 level seats. As recently as Monday, Mr. Duguid's brother, Brent Duguid, who is fundraising chair for the minister's riding association, was e-mailing prospective donors, encouraging them to come to the May 18 event.

When The Globe reminded Mr. Duguid's office about the Blue Jays event, he responded through a spokeswoman that the fundraiser will be public and advertised on the Liberal Party's website.

On April 18, Mr. Chiarelli is to host a "cocktails and conversation" fundraiser at Campagnolo, an Italian restaurant in Toronto's west end, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by The Globe.

In recent days, the Premier has been attempting to seize control of the campaign finance issue. Less than a month ago, she dismissed concerns over cash-for-access, saying donations from corporations and unions are "part of the democratic process." Now, she is trying to outflank the opposition parties on the issue.

On Monday, Ms. Wynne would not directly answer questions from Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown on whether her party had urged corporations and lobbyists to attend fundraisers to get a hearing on their issues. Instead, she had her cabinet grill Mr. Brown on his own fundraisers – including elite affairs at Toronto's Albany Club – while Liberal MPPs brandished copies of his fundraising records.

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Mr. Brown argued that fundraising is different for opposition MPPs because they cannot exchange government favours for access.

"I can't give 10 cents out," he said. "And when I'm Premier, there won't be union or corporate donations. There will not be fundraising targets for ministers. It is conduct I would never tolerate. No one's going to influence me."

The PCs and NDP accused the Liberals of making government decisions based on campaign donations. The Globe has reported that one of the banks involved in the lucrative privatization of Hydro One promoted a $7,500-a-person fundraiser for Mr. Sousa and Mr. Chiarelli in December, a month after the initial public offering for the electricity company.

But Ed Clark, a retired banker and Ms. Wynne's adviser on government assets, who designed the Hydro One privatization, said on Tuesday there was no quid-pro-quo between the fundraiser and the sale.

"Absolutely not. Without question. And I can swear on whatever Bible you want me to swear on, or a Koran, or anything," he said in an interview. "The government gave this over and said, 'We don't want to be involved in this. You can pick the [banks], you can pick the timing, you can pick the price and then just come to us when you're ready to go.' They were very, very adamant on that point."

Speedier campaign finance reform would disadvantage the opposition more than the Liberals, at least in the short term. While the governing party is flush with cash, the PCs and NDP have hefty debts from the last campaign, sources in both parties said.

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NDP Leader‎ Andrea Horwath is pushing for more consultation before campaign finance changes are made. She denied on Tuesday that she is trying to slow down the process to give her party more time to pay off its debt before the new rules kick in.

"This is really about what Ontarians deserve, and they don't deserve to have the ruling Liberal Party ram through legislation on something as important as election finance reform without having some consultation," she said.

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