Robert MacDermid is an associate professor of political science at York University.
If you're in Ontario and standing in line at the Beer Store trying to find the latest craft beer, then you might think about what effect contributions from the beer industry to Ontario political parties has had on your limited choices.
If you joined a political party because you wanted to bring about change, then you might think about why companies seem to get immediate face time at the party's exclusive fundraisers while your ideas rarely get anyone's attention.
If you're sitting in traffic on the Don Valley or Gardiner expressways, or riding a crowded subway or GO train, then you might ponder what effect development-industry campaign donations have had in creating a low-density suburbia that is unserviceable by adequate mass transit.
If you're looking for home care or seniors' accommodation, then you might think about what effect contributions from the long-term-care industry to provincial parties and ministers has had in creating the expensive and inadequate system we must endure.
Who funds politics matters in our lives, every day. If we accept a political finance system that permits large contributions from corporations and wealthy individuals, then we will have political policies and solutions that favour those groups more than ever.
People at exclusive political fundraisers are not there to talk about baseball or to benevolently support democracy. Their time is too valuable, and they paid too much for the ticket for that. They are there to push their case and their interests.
Opinion polls about political contributions show that most Canadians agree that corporate contributions should be banned from politics. Corporations can't vote, so why should they be allowed to finance the choices?
Federal elections, and politics in Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Alberta (and Toronto) are now free of corporate and union contributions. That doesn't mean scandals are a thing of the past; politicians and corporations can still try to break the rules.
But it is long past time for Ontario, British Columbia and other provinces to reform their political financing rules, and there are plenty of examples in Canada of reforms that have worked. Here's a six-step guide:
A first step is to ban contributions from corporations and unions at all levels of politics in Ontario. The Ontario Progressive Conservative and Liberal parties would immediately lose between 40 per cent and 60 per cent of their funding. They would have to turn, like the federal parties have, to finding a broader base of financial supporters.
The number of people who give money to candidates and parties is small, often less than 1 per cent of the population. Democratic politics is not free, but it doesn't need to be costly if citizens are energized by ideas and policies. The federal Conservatives and New Democrats have long had organizations to raise money from the grassroots; now the Liberals have developed the same thing. They had to because of the 2004-2006 federal reforms.
A second step is to lower contribution limits from more than $33,000 in an election year in Ontario to something like the federal limit of about $1,500. This will force parties to build large bases of small donors and turn their focus away from high-priced fundraising dinners.
A third step is to improve disclosure and oversight of the rules (as has been the case in the United States for decades). All contributions should be promptly disclosed and the information should be sufficient to tell if employers might be funnelling money to employees to support preferred candidates and parties.
While there are already significant public subsidies to parties and candidates in the form of tax credits and campaign-expense subsidies, a fourth step would be to increase this to allow parties to transition to the new rules.
A fifth step is to reform the rules about the involvement of third parties or special-interest groups in campaigns. Such rules are much tighter at the federal level than they are in Ontario, where unions and corporations have spent millions of dollars in recent elections.
Finally, any reform should include a serious attempt to reduce the amount parties and candidates can spend during an election campaign. For example, parties often spend as much as 40 per cent of their campaign budgets on patronizing, manipulative, 30-second television ads.
None of these reforms are radical; they are all well-accepted rules in various other countries. Now we need Canadian governments to act.