Skip to main content

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attends the annual Greek Independence Day Parade on Danforth Avenue in Toronto on Sunday.Chris Helgren/Reuters

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's sudden reversal on political donations is not the most elegant pirouette ever executed, but it is good news for Ontarians and the right thing to do. In order to be meaningful, though, any reform of the province's election finance laws must be dramatic.

The most crucial change will be a ban on corporate and union donations. Ten days ago, Ms. Wynne was claiming, counterintuitively, that these massive donations – openly traded for access to her cabinet ministers – were a valuable part of democracy. Last week, under growing pressure, she announced she would look at transitioning away from them in the fall.

Her latest position, announced Monday, is that her government will bring in legislation this spring "to end corporate and union donations." Good. Ottawa did it a decade ago. Canada's largest province should do it now.

The government must also limit the size of individual donations. Ontario's current limits mean one person can donate $16,625 per year per party, and double that in an election year. Ottawa lowered its limit to $1,000 in 2006 but has since indexed it upward to $1,525. That is still a high limit, one that separates the wealthy from those for whom a $50 donation is a financial sacrifice. Ms. Wynne should consider a flat $100 annual limit per party, as Quebec has done.

These fixes will amount to little, however, if the government doesn't also place limits on contributions to third-party groups, as well as spending limits for the groups themselves. There are no limits on these organizations, and parties use them to get around donation and spending limits. This has to end; otherwise, nothing really changes.

Ms. Wynne should also address the problems created by having a fixed election date, as Ontario does. The downsides were apparent during last year's fixed-date federal election, when parties were able to spend unlimited amounts of money before the writ was dropped. It's a problem the federal Liberals say they will address. Ms. Wynne should beat them to the punch and limit party spending during the unregulated months before a fixed-date election.

The party-finance scandal has not been Ms. Wynne's finest hour. But if it results in reform, she'll be entitled to a little redemption.

Interact with The Globe