Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne laid out a framework for political fundraising reforms on Monday, including a ban on corporate and union donations, spending limits on third-party advertising and reducing the allowable donation to within the range of the federal limit, which is $1,525.
She wants the ban on the corporate and union donations to be in place for Jan. 1, 2017, well before the 2018 provincial election.
Her blueprint, which she said she wrote at home last Saturday, was released after a 45-minute meeting with the two opposition leaders.
Her plan does not include specific limits on donations or spending. She said she wants more public input and further talks with the party leaders before determining the details. She left open the possibility of a per vote subsidy as a way to ease the transition for parties. She wants more input, too, on whether the lower limit on donations should be phased in.
Reports about the Liberals' fundraising practices have dominated news coverage for several weeks. Private fundraising events in which people pay hundreds of dollars to meet with the Premier or senior cabinet ministers have raised questions about selling access. In addition, cabinet ministers have been assigned fundraising quotas, some in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Ontario is one of the few provinces without strict financing rules. Ottawa, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Alberta and Manitoba all ban union and corporate donations.
Amid public outrage, Ms. Wynne promised legislative changes to election financing. She said on Monday the legislation will be introduced next month.
Although she says she wants the process to be non-partisan, it has been anything but.
On Monday morning, both opposition leaders peppered the Premier with questions during Question Period about political financing and fundraising events – and sent out press releases before the afternoon meeting with their demands for reforms.
After the meeting, both leaders focused their criticisms on the process rather than the proposed reforms.
"I am very disappointed in the meeting. It was a sham and a farce," Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown said. The Premier rejected his call for a public inquiry into the government's fundraising practices.
Mr. Brown told reporters Ms. Wynne "is afraid of an open and transparent process to develop the rules."
"She wants it run by the Premier's office," he said. He also said she is "petrified by a public inquiry."
The PCs have cancelled a $9,975 a plate fundraiser at the Albany Club that Mr. Brown was to attend this month.
A spokeswoman in the leader's office said it was cancelled for logistical reasons by the Conservative Fund, and the donors will not get a refund, as they were donating to the conservative cause, and not to buy access to Mr. Brown.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath accused Ms. Wynne of laying out a "Liberal agenda" rather than a non-partisan one.
"In issues such as these there should be a broader process, one that has the confidence of the public, that is not being done behind closed doors by one political party but that it is opened up to all political parties," she said.
Ms. Wynne said her process "captures much of the concern and discussion that has been in the public realm" and will result in changes by January, 2017. She said there wasn't disagreement among the opposition leaders at the meeting on the substance of her reforms.
In addition to the ban on corporate and union donations, changes to third-party advertising rules, and reducing the amount an individual is allowed to donate, Ms. Wynne's plan calls for reform of by-election donation rules, constraints on loans or loan guarantees to parties, and candidates, including leadership candidates, reduction in spending limits for parties during election periods, and spending limits on leadership and nomination campaigns.
The Wynne government has a majority, and can control the process. Ms. Wynne said there will be consultations during the summer across Ontario on the reforms; the first government witness at the committee hearings will be the Chief Electoral Officer. He will also be consulted throughout the process, she says.
Ms. Wynne characterized her reforms as a "need to update the rules" and mused that perhaps she should have made changes earlier.
"Should we have had this discussion a year and a half ago, two years ago? You know, maybe, maybe it would have been better if we had got to this sooner," she said. "But the fact is we a here now. We need to move forward."
With a report from Adrian Morrow