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Ford government’s Bill 254 makes undemocratic, unethical and likely unconstitutional changes that will make Ontario elections unfair

Doubling donation limit will allow wealthy donors to buy even more influence, likely helping Ford’s PC Party most – donation limit should be lowered to $100

Extended third-party ad spending limits should be cut from Bill, or referred to Court of Appeal for a ruling on their constitutionality – study needed of limits

Per-vote and all public funding should be reviewed by independent commission to prove it is needed, and is democratic and fair

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released its submission to the Ontario legislature committee reviewing the Ford government’s Bill 254, calling for changes to reverse the many undemocratic, unethical and, in some parts, likely unconstitutional political finance measures that will make Ontario elections unfair, tilting the rules in favour of Ford’s PC Party.

“In many ways, the Ford government’s Bill 254 violates the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote, and if its undemocratic, unethical and unconstitutional measures are not changed they will make Ontario elections unfair, tilting the rules in favour of Ford’s PC Party,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Money in Politics Coalition.

The Ford government’s Bill 254 proposes to double the annual donation limit, which will allow wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians, and will likely benefit Ford’s PC Party the most.

Democracy Watch’s analysis of 2020 party donations shows the PCs received almost 50% of their donations of more than $100 from only 20% of their donors who donated $1,000 or more. The other main parties’ top donors also provided disproportionate amount of funding.

Democracy Watch’s analysis also shows that the median donation to provincial parties of donations of more than $100, which is the most accurate indication of the amount an average voter can afford, is: PCs ($200), Liberals ($50); NDP ($25); Greens ($30).

“Doubling the donation limit as the Ford government’s Bill 254 proposes will allow wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians, especially given that the full identity and associations of donors is not disclosed, and will likely benefit Ford’s party the most,” said Conacher. “The only way to stop the unethical, undemocratic influence of big money on Ontario politics is to limit donations to $100 or less, which is an amount an average voter can afford.”

Bill 254 also increases from 6 months to 12 months the pre-election period during which advertising spending by interest groups and individuals – known as “third parties” – is limited. Measures in the current Election Finances Act also impose onerous banking, tracking and disclosure requirements on groups that spend only $500 on ads, instead of applying those requirements only to big money ad campaigns. These extended restrictions are likely unconstitutional.

The Ford government’s proposed spending restrictions on advertising by interest groups for the year before the election are likely unconstitutional because they arbitrarily limit spending too much, and for too long, and impose too many requirements on groups that only spend small amounts,” said Conacher. “The restrictions should be cut from Bill 254 or, at the very least, the Ford Cabinet should refer them to the courts for a ruling on whether they are constitutional.” (under section 8 of the Courts of Justice Act).

“Restricting massive ad campaigns by wealthy interest groups and individuals in the few months leading up to an election is a good, democratic idea, as the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled, as is prohibiting huge ad campaigns by lobbyists all the time, but an independent commission should be set up to study the actual costs of reaching voters to ensure the ad spending limits are realistic, and the limit should be higher for groups that have lots of supporters than it is for an individual voter,” said Conacher.

Bill 254 also proposes to extend and increase the annual per-vote funding for parties. Democracy Watch’s analysis, contained in its submission, reveals that the provincial per-vote funding system provides on average half to two-thirds of each of the four main parties’ annual funding. Combined with the tax credits that donors receive, it amounts to much too high public funding for parties and candidates.

“An independent commission is needed to study the actual costs of running parties and riding associations are and then, only if parties and candidates can prove they need it, public funding should be adjusted to reflect those actual costs, and to make the system democratic and fair,” said Conacher.

The only good parts in Bill 254 are the measures allowing independent candidates to raise money before election campaigns begins (however, more disclosure must be required of donations and spending of such candidates), and the measures giving the Chief Electoral Officer to fine violators of Ontario’s election law (however, the CEO must be required to have a reasonable belief of a violation, and an appeal to the courts of the CEO’s ruling must be allowed).

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign