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opinion

Christine Van Geyn is Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Few things are as revealing of the underlying values of the current Ontario Liberal government as its most recent proposals for election financing reform. The proposals show an absolute lack of faith in voters, and a movement to replace the speech of civil society with government-controlled speech. All on the taxpayers' dime.

The draft legislation introduced on May 17 includes a taxpayer subsidy of $2.26 per vote to political parties, and limits on speech by civil society groups without corresponding restrictions on government advertising.

The taxpayer subsidy of $2.26 per vote would give a total of $10.7-million in taxpayer money to politicians, with the governing Liberals receiving the most at $4.2-million. That's $10.7-million that is not paying to build roads or bridges. It's $10.7-million of your money that is not filling in potholes, assisting autistic children, or paying doctors' salaries. You will be forced to hand over your money to political leaders for them to run attack ads and stuff your mailbox full of flyers.

Premier Kathleen Wynne acts as though the only alternative to accepting corporate and union donations is to force you to pay for her political campaigns. Of course, this is not true. The alternative to taxpayer-financed campaigns is for Ms. Wynne to raise the money herself by engaging with citizens who support her and who want to give her money voluntarily.

The great shame is that no one at Queen's Park is standing up for taxpayers and citizens against this policy. Perhaps this is unsurprising. After all, Ms. Wynne, Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown and NDP leader Andrea Horwath all have an interest in putting their hands simultaneously in your pocket.

Another troubling proposal in the election financing reforms is the limits on speech by civil society groups. The draft legislation proposes to reduce "advertising" by public advocacy organizations that "[take] a position on an issue with which a registered party or candidate is associated." This expansive definition of advertising captures virtually any and all public comment on issues of public policy. To her credit, Ms. Horwath has come out against this proposal, although we suspect for self-interested reasons.

As full disclosure, our organization, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, regularly comments on issues of public policy related to taxes, government waste and accountability. We are a non-partisan and non-profit group with 89,000 supporters across Canada and which last year raised $4.7-million from 30,633 donations. Our donations are not tax deductible, unlike the contributions Ontario provincial politicians get right now.

Under the proposed legislation, some of our advocacy (like a radio ad or billboard campaign) would be considered "advertising" because we take positions on "issues with which a registered party or candidate is associated." We oppose the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan and the carbon tax. We favour balanced budgets and an end to political patronage. But to continue this work, for which we receive no taxpayer money and which is funded by tens of thousands of engaged Canadians, in Ontario we would be forced to register as third-party advertisers and be subject to spending limits.

Of course, we would never come anywhere close to the $100,000 advertising limit Ms. Wynne has proposed for the election period, let alone the $600,000 limit on advertising during the six-month lead-up to a campaign. For example, in British Columbia we ran the "No Translink Tax" campaign in which we spent a mere $40,000 and defeated the government "Yes" side and its $7-million, mostly taxpayer-funded campaign.

With a history like this, we know that being well-financed is no guarantee of victory, and being outspent is no reason to be intimidated. The Working Families Coalition spent $2.5-million advertising in the last election, and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association spent $2.1-million. But if people disagree with what they had to say, the answer is more speech, not restrictions.

Instead of replacing voluntary donations with tax money, and instead of limiting the speech of civil society while simultaneously ramping up unrestricted government advertising, Ms. Wynne, Mr. Brown and Ms. Horwath should have faith in the population to make the right choices on election day.

After all, having the biggest microphone does not make you more right, it just makes you louder. And voters ultimately know the difference.