ELECTION FINANCES REFORM

 

In May of 1975, the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party of Bill Davis introduced the Election Finances Reform Act, which placed limits on how much money could be contributed by individuals, corporations, and unions to registered political parties. For the first time in Ontario's history, it required parties to report the names of their contributors.

In October of 2003, Dalton McGuinty's Liberals won a majority government. Plank 166 of their election platform called for the introduction of so-called "real-time reporting" of financial contributions to political parties.

In McGuinty's November 2003 speech from the throne, it was announced that the government would create a large "green belt" of land around the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area where development would be prohibited.

Six months later, on May 14, 2004, at the home of the brother of then Finance Minister Greg Sorbara, the Liberal Party quietly held a $10,000.00 per plate fundraiser. One Silvio DeGasperis - a land developer - was one of approximately 12 land developers who attended the fundraiser.

One month later, a law was passed that prohibited development on a "Greenbelt" of land with tentatively-drawn boundaries. The final boundaries of the green belt were yet to be determined.

On Friday, February 25, 2005, on the TVO show "Fourth Reading", Municipal Affairs Minister John Gerretson told host Susanna Kelley that "I have not met with any developers. I have purposely stayed away from meeting with individual landowners that had an interest in the greenbelt." In that show, Kelley broke the news of the May 14, 2004, $10,000.00 per plate Liberal fundraiser.

Three days later, the final boundaries of the Greenbelt were made law. The new law prohibited development in a 325 kilometer Green Belt that stretched from Niagara Falls to Peterborough.

Starting the following day, March 1, 2005, the Legislature erupted with questions and condemnations about the reported $10,000 "swanky soiree". The opposition parties wanted the names of the developers who had attended the Liberal fundraiser, and wondered if developers who paid the Liberals $10,000.00 had had their land holdings exempted from the Greenbelt. Approximately 100 acres of DeGasperis' land - worth an estimated $15M - was exempted from the Greenbelt, but the new law banned development on approximately 400 hectares of DeGasperis's land in Pickering.

On March 7, 2005, DeGasperis wrote a letter to Gerretson - apparently shared with members of the Opposition parties - thanking him for meeting with him during the boundary-determination process and thanking him for exempting the land that was exempted. During question period in the legislature, opposition MPP Bob Runciman told Premier Dalton McGuinty:

"The story gets worse. Mr. DeGasperis, the developer who thanked the Minister of Municipal Affairs today for exempting his lands from the greenbelt, is the same Mr. DeGasperis who paid $10,000 to meet with you and the finance minister at the Sorbara household last year."

On June 9, 2005, to deal with the embarrassing developments, the McGuinty Liberals introduced "real time reporting" legislation, in an effort to make it look as though they had nothing to hide and were in favour of transparency and accountability. Bill 214, the Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 2005, came into force on December 13, 2005. It placed onerous requirements on all political parties to report, within 10 days of deposit, every financial contribution they received (after the first $100 per year), together with the name of the contributor, whose names and contributions would be published on the Elections Ontario website for all to see.

One cash-for-access scandal was not enough for the Liberals.

On January 12, 2016, Toronto Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn reported that Wynne's cabinet ministers were expected by Wynne to "troll" big contributions to the Liberal party, essentially by making themselves available to big donors such as corporations and unions. He reported that ministers actually were given "quasi quotas": fundraising targets that they were expected to meet. "That's the price of admission to Kathleen Wynne's inner circle - a place where money talks, and is a key part of your unofficial job description", he wrote, and continued that "Moonlighting ministers who fail to meet their annual targets risk the wrath of a party and a premier who keep defending our indefensible fundraising laws."

A follow-up report in The Star on March 29, 2016 fell like a bomb on Wynne's government. Cohn reported Wynne's top cabinet ministers have "quasi quotas" of approximately $250,000.00, or double that. He reported that Wynne was making no apology for her government ministers' cash-for-access practices. The Globe and Mail responded with an editorial that openly questioned whether the practice constituted a violation of Canada's Criminal Code:

"...as Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne keeps saying, everything her party and her cabinet members do to raise money conforms with the laws of the province.

But the revelation this week that the Liberal Party sets massive fundraising quotas for cabinet ministers, and then asks those ministers to hit up corporate and union stakeholders in the sectors overseen by their respective departments, is too immense a breach of ethics to be swept under the table without further consequence.

There is, in fact, language in the Criminal Code that seems to apply to the Liberals' fundraising scheme. Even if this contention goes no further than this editorial, it is still evidence of just how depraved the whole boondoggle really is. Yes, what the Liberals are doing may be legal, but only by the thinnest of margins.

The money raised by the Liberal scheme comes from large donations paid by corporations, unions and wealthy private citizens. Those donations are paid in the form of expensive tickets to dinners and cocktail receptions where the attendees are promised intimate, one-on-one meetings with the cabinet ministers who have direct influence over the sectors in which they operate."

Within days, Kathleen Wynne had put together a response: she would introduce new legislation to change the way parties were funded. On April 11, 2016, she called Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown and NDP leader Andrea Horwath into her office to tell them about the legislative changes. Brown and Horwath were not happy that the initial draft of the changes had been drawn-up without their input, but all three party leaders were happy with the news that Wynne's government would introduce a taxpayer-funded per-vote allowance for their parties (but not for almost all other registered political parties).

The new legislation banned contributions by corporations and unions. It dramatically reduced the annual contribution limit for individuals: from $9,975 to $1,200.00. It gave the Liberals, Progressive Conservatives, NDP, and Greens (but not other parties) a per-vote subsidy: every ballot would now cost the taxpayer approximately $10 (even though the price of the ballot was already paid with the blood of Canadian soldiers), and all of that money would go only to the Liberals, NDP, PC, and Greens. Freedom Party and other parties were effectively excluded from the per-vote party subsidy. The subsidy was described as a way to replace lost corporate, union, and individual voluntary contributions, but the subsidy was made so large that it pays those parties several times more than the maximum millions of dollars each party is permitted to spend in an election. It sets those parties up for several elections into the future, making it difficult for newly emerging parties to compete with them.

Perhaps worst of all, the new legislation made it illegal for any party leader or candidate to attend his or her own party's fundraising events. For example, Paul McKeever - the leader of Freedom Party of Ontario - can no longer attend Freedom Party of Ontario fundraising dinners, even though the main speech at those dinners has - for decades - been that given by the party leader. In effect, the freedom of association and freedom of speech of individuals who are not cabinet ministers, who are not MPPs, who have absolutely no direct power to make or change laws, are violated by the new election finances legislation.

In summary, to distract the public from Liberal cash-for-access scandals, Liberal governments over the last 13 years have amended election finances laws to make themselves appear to be in favour of accountability and transparency. However, the real effect of these amendments has been to fill the election warchests of the Liberal, PCs, NDP, Green parties, and to violate the freedom of speech and freedom of association of individuals who - like you - are not elected and do not control the levers of government.

These protectionist and oppressive election finance laws cannot be permitted to stand.

A Freedom government will:

  • maintain the ban on corporate and union donations;

  • remove the cap on political contributions by individuals;

  • allow party leaders and candidates to attend and speak at party fundraisers; and

  • immediately discontinue the per-vote subsidy to political parties.
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