Doug Ford has spent his time as Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and Premier of the province telling anyone who will listen that he is not Kathleen Wynne, and his party is not the Liberals.
It’s a smart message. During the election campaign last year, it successfully tapped into voters’ craving for change after 15 years of Liberal rule. In government, it has paved the way for an aggressively anti-Liberal agenda.
The PC government’s decisions to cancel a scheduled increase in the minimum wage and to soften a police-oversight law it considered unfair to cops are among a number of moves that have put daylight between Mr. Ford and what he called “the most politically corrupt government this country has ever seen.”
But when it comes to the most politically corrupt thing the Liberals ever actually did – swapping access to cabinet ministers for political donations – the Ford PCs are hard to distinguish from the Wynne Liberals.
An investigation by The Globe and Mail found that PC Party officials put pressure on lobbyists and business people to sell tickets to a $1,250-a-person fundraising dinner in Toronto this week, hinting that their future access to government might depend on their success in raising the required cash.
A PC Party spokesman has denied the allegation. But the possibility of it is all too real, given that the PCs have undone critical aspects of the political fundraising reforms the Wynne Liberals enacted to extricate themselves from the cash-for-access scandal that tainted their time in power.
Upon taking power, the Ford government raised the maximum annual donation to political parties from $1,200 to $1,600, and repealed a ban on MPPs attending fundraisers.
As well, it eliminated the obligation of individual donors to state that the money they give is their own and wasn’t provided by a corporation, a union or another person. It is still illegal for corporations and unions to donate to a party, or for a person to accept a ticket to a fundraiser paid for by someone else, but a vital check on that is now gone.
The Ford government is also slowly phasing out a public subsidy for parties based on the number of votes they receive in an election.
Since the Globe broke the story, Mr. Ford has been reduced to aping his predecessor’s lame defence that “no one can influence [me]” – a line Ms. Wynne tried until she realized that it was utterly beside the point.
The backlash against cash-for-access has never been about whether or not a premier has the reputation for incorruptibility of a Girl Guide, but whether the perception of influence being bought and sold exists.
The Wynne government’s fundraising reforms went a way toward diminishing that perception. But the Ford government has reversed those improvements, and now appears to be trying to cash in.
This is not a good look for a party that likes to pretend that it is “for the people," and not for the “elites" it is allegedly hitting up for cash in exchange for privileged access to Ontario’s halls of power.
Someone should explain to Mr. Ford that a premier who wanted to prove he had the interests of the people at heart would not be raising donation limits. Instead, he’d lower the maximum individual party donation to $100 per year, as Quebec did a decade ago (as well as bringing in a per-vote public subsidy).
This is something we have repeatedly called for – in every province and in Ottawa.
A $100 limit reassures the public that no one person can have more influence than any other, regardless of their wealth.
It also provides for more money than any self-respecting party needs. The Ontario PCs got 2.3-million votes in 2018. If they received just $10 from each voter, they would have a whopping $23-million to play with.
Mr. Ford’s “man of the people” blarney took another hit this week when it was revealed in court documents that he wants the Ontario Provincial Police to buy him a high-end van pimped out with leather seats and a “power reclining sofa bench,” plus WiFi, a mini-fridge, a TV and a Blu-ray player.
Combined with his party’s resurrection of Ontario’s discredited cash-for-access political regime, he’s looking more like the premier he replaced than the one he claims to be.