The strange evolution of the Ontario Liberal government's political fundraising reform continues apace.
The latest twist is Premier Katheen Wynne's announcement this week that her government plans to ban anyone running for provincial office from attending fundraising events. That follows last week's announcement that the government would ban sitting MPPs from showing their faces at any event where money was being raised for their party, their riding association or themselves.
The goal, according to the government, is to end cash-for-access fundraising, the sordid practice of cabinet ministers and opposition leaders meeting in exclusive settings with corporate or union donors, in return for generous cheques.
The government's reform does take steps to address the scandal. Most critically, it bans union and corporate donations, while lowering the maximum annual personal donation limit from $33,250 to $3,600 in an election year. This is progress.
But preventing a cabinet minister or opposition critic from personally accepting a cheque tonight doesn't prevent her from meeting privately with the generous donor tomorrow. And with a donation limit of $3,600 in an election year, the incentive and the opportunity for conflict of interest remain.
Ms. Wynne only has to look at Quebec to see why the $3,600 limit is still too high. Quebec was the first province to ban union and corporate money and impose lower donation limits. Quebec's original maximum was $3,000, but abuses by some companies, which got employees to donate and then paid them back, prompted the province to lower the limit, first to $1,000 and then to $100.
If Ms. Wynne is determined to end the perception that Ontario politicians are selling access, banning politicians from showing their faces at fundraisers won't do the trick. Instead, she should further lower the maximum personal donation to $100, and also outlaw the bundling of small donations by third parties.
The political parties won't go broke, thanks to a per-vote subsidy included in the reform that will see the Liberal Party alone collect more than $5-million annually. But the notion that money talks too loudly in Ontario politics will disappear if big donations are outlawed. Nothing else will work as well.