Advocating for stronger and more democratic political donation and spending laws
Money to the Ref? We don’t allow that in hockey or other sports – but in politics it’s legal!
Politicians are supposed to be the referees who decide what is in the public interest – so why do we allow wealthy private interests to buy them off with huge donations, including secret donations, and why do we allow interest groups to spend secret, unlimited amounts of money before and during many election campaigns?”
Please send your letter now using the form on this page, and please help spread the word by Liking and Tweeting this page.
(See below for more details about the loopholes and flaws in Canada’s political finance laws)
- Please print and use Good Government sticker/door sign
- Download and print the “Senate Scandal is the tip of the iceberg” sign by clicking here and put it up everywhere
- Organizations: Join the nation-wide Money in Politics Coalition
- Summary of Third Party Advertising Spending Limits Court Case (archive website)
Money in Politics Campaign 1993-2011 archive (archive website)
Surveys show that a large majority of Canadians believe governments are driven by wealthy interest groups, especially corporate donors, and that governments regularly act unethically to help their business friends and are not doing enough to stop corruption. Surveys also show that a large majority of Canadians support placing strict limits on the influence of wealthy interests in politics.
Many recent scandals in Canadian politics – at the federal level with third party interest group spending, in Alberta and in Ontario with donations from construction companies linked to changes in labour laws, in Quebec with illegal donations to all parties, and with the election overspending and donation scandals of former Conservative Cabinet minister Peter Penashue and former Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro — have made many people realize how loophole-filled and weak the restriction of money in politics is in Canada.
The election enforcement officials in Quebec clearly were not doing enough to stop corruption, and in Alberta there are questions about the effectiveness of election officials.
Italian police have said that Ontario has a mafia corruption problem in the construction industry even worse than in Quebec.
As a result, the pressure is increasing on all politicians, and all governments, to clean up their political finance systems.
Democracy Watch coordinates the nation-wide Money in Politics Coalition made up of 50 citizen groups with a combined total membership of more than 3 million Canadians that are all pushing together for key changes.
In June 2015, the new Alberta NDP government banned corporate and union donations to political parties, riding associations and candidates but left many other undemocratic loopholes open. Also, the federal Liberals promised to regulate pre-election spending by parties, but not necessarily by third parties.
Elections Canada has stated that they will audit donations from 2011 election in an effort to catch those violating donation laws.
Quebec recently limited donations to $100 to fight political corruption.
Loopholes in Federal Canadian Law
In December 2006, Parliament passed Bill C-2 (the so-called “Federal Accountability Act” (FAA) — Details of changes made by Bill C-2) which made historic changes to Canada’s 33-year-old political fundraising rules in the Canada Elections Act. Among other progressive changes, as of January 1, 2007:
- there is a $1,200 annual limit on donations by each Canadian to each federal political party, and a combined total limit of $1,100 annually to each parties’ riding associations (and, during an election campaign, the same combined total limit applies to donations to each party’s election candidates);
- corporations, unions and other organizations are banned from making donations;
- disclosure of political donations is more comprehensive and timely, although disclosure of a party or candidate’s donors is still not be required before an election vote takes place;
- secret, unlimited donations of money, property and services to election candidates are prohibited, and;
- federal politicians are prohibited from having a trust fund.
While the new law limits the influence of money in politics, the following loopholes still exist that allow for secret, unlimited donations:
- donation limits and disclosure requirements are needed for “volunteer labour” donated to parties and candidates during nomination race, election and party leadership campaigns, to close this existing secret donations loophole that allows corporations, unions and other organizations to give employees paid time off to work on campaigns;
- loans to parties, riding associations, nomination race candidates, election candidates and party leadership candidates from corporations, unions and all other types of organizations (including political parties and riding associations lending to candidates) must be banned (as donations have been), or at least strictly limited, and loans from individuals must be limited (as donations have been) so that loans cannot be used to influence the government or politicians;
- as political party leadership campaign candidates are required to do, all candidates and parties must be required to disclose publicly all donations, gifts, and the status of any loans, during the week before election day, so voters know who is bankrolling campaigns;
- disclosure of the identity of each individual donor’s employer must be required (as in the U.S.) and disclosure of each donor’s direct organizational affiliations must also be required (to help ensure that corporations, unions and other organizations are not funnelling donations through their employees or board members);
- secret, unlimited donations of money, property and services to candidates in nomination race and political party leadership campaigns must be banned (NOTE: Bill C-2 (the FAA) bans secret donations to election candidates, but not to nomination race nor to party leadership candidates);
- secret donations are still effectively allowed because the federal Conservatives are not complying with the UN Convention Against Corruption nor other international standards that require the monitoring of the bank accounts of all public officials who have decision-making power (for details, go to: Democracy Watch’s December 9, 2011 news release (archive website));
- riding associations and political parties are still allowed to have a secret trust fund and take secret, unlimited donations to the fund (as long as they don’t use the donations for campaigns);
- the penalty for taking a secret donation of money, property or services, or having a secret trust fund, must be increased to $100,000 and a jail term (NOTE : the FAA establishes ridiculously low penalties of $500 to $2,000);
- given that federal election dates are now fixed every 4 years, spending by candidates, riding associations and political parties must be limited for at least 6 months before each election day;
- donations by political parties to riding associations and candidates must be limited to decrease the possibility of party headquarters influencing the selection of candidates by riding associations, and to make associations and candidates more independent from party headquarters;
- establish public funding that matches the donations made to any nomination race, election, and party leadership candidate who raises a specific minimum amount of money that shows they have voter support;
- lower the public funding of political parties from $1.75 per vote received to $0.75 per vote received (to ensure that in order to prosper parties need to have active, ongoing support of a broad base of individuals) and ensure riding associations receive a fair share of this funding (to decrease the control of party headquarters over riding associations), and;
- spending limits must be established for political party leadership campaigns to ensure a level playing field for all candidates (spending by nomination race candidates, election candidates, and political parties is already limited during campaigns).
Loopholes in Canadian Provincial and Territorial Laws
All Canadian provincial and territorial laws have the same loopholes as the Canadian federal law set out above, and in addition the have the following loopholes:
- other than in Manitoba and Québec, donation limits are much higher than a few thousand dollars, allowing wealthy interests to buy influence with the government;
- several provinces, including British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, the Yukon, and PEI do not have donation limits;
- other than in Manitoba and Québec, corporations, unions and other organizations are allowed to make donations;
- all jurisdictions allow fundraisers to act as “bundlers” of donations from other individuals, without any disclosure of the identity of bundlers;
- other than in Ontario, disclosure of donations to parties happens only once each year, and everywhere donations to riding associations happens only once each year, and disclosure of a party or candidate’s donors is not required before an election vote takes place;
- secret, unlimited donations of money, property and services to all types of political candidates are allowed, and;
- candidates, elected officials, riding associations, and political parties are allowed to have a secret trust fund and take secret, unlimited donations to the fund (as long as they don’t use the donations for campaigns)