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Group calls on Ontario Liberals to undertake meaningful public consultation before changing political finance system

Key democracy laws usually developed by all parties after public consultation – Ontario Liberals unilateral action similar to the so-called “Fair Election Act” the federal Conservatives’ imposed on other parties in 2014

Proposed donation limit of $1,500 undemocratically high – changes should also be made to municipal system across province

Thursday, April 14, 2016

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on the Ontario Liberals to undertake a meaningful public consultation before changing the political finance system. The unilateral decision by the Liberals on changes that will be made goes against their own commitment to consult with Ontarians before making decisions, and also goes against the mandate given by Premier Wynne to Treasury Board minister Deb Matthews to ensure consultation occurs.

“Key democracy laws across Canada are usually developed by all parties after meaningful public consultation and the Ontario Liberals should follow this tradition before changing the political finance system,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Visiting Professor and LL.M. candidate at the University of Ottawa. “In 2014 the federal Conservatives failed to consult with anyone before introducing big changes to the election law, and the Ontario Liberals should not follow the Conservatives’ undemocratic process.”

Democracy Watch also called for key changes to ensure the new political finance system will actually be democratic. While the Liberals have made good proposals to ban corporate and union donations, and limit donations and spending by all candidates (including party leadership candidates), the Toronto Star has reported that the Ontario Liberals will also set the limit on individual donations at the undemocratically high level of $1,500.

“The proposed $1,500 donation limit is undemocratic because most Ontarians can’t afford it and so it will allow wealthy interests to still use money as an unethical way of influencing parties and politicians,” said Conacher. “As Quebec’s corruption scandal shows clearly, it will also allow corporations, unions and other organizations continue to donate large amounts by having their executives and their family members all make the maximum donation each year.”

Even if funneling donations is made illegal (as it was in Quebec), the donors will just claim they were not forced by their company or union to make the donation, and no one would be able to prove otherwise.

Few have been charged in Quebec’s corruption scandal even though an Elections Quebec audit found $12.5 million in likely illegally funneled donations from 2006-2011. To stop the corruption, in 2013 Quebec lowered its individual donation limit to $100 annually, and required donations to be verified by Elections Quebec before being transferred to parties and candidates. Ontario should make the same democratic changes.

“To match Quebec’s world-leading democratic system, Ontario must limit individual donations to about $100 annually and use per-vote and matching public funding that ensures parties and candidates have a level of funding based on their level of voter support,” said Conacher. “Similar changes should be made to Ontario’s municipal law, taking into account that there are no parties at the municipal level, so that every municipality in the province has the same democratic rules.”

The key changes Ontario must make to democratize its provincial political finance system are as follows (and similar changes should be made province-wide to the municipal political finance system, taking into account that there are no political parties at the municipal level);

  1. a ban on donations by corporations, unions and other organizations (Quebec enacted such a ban in the late 1970s);
  2. a limit on annual donations by individuals to each party of $100-200 annually (Quebec’s limit is $100) with donations routed through the election watchdog agency (as in Quebec);
  3. a ban on donations from individuals who do not live in the jurisdiction;
  4. a prohibition on loans to political parties, riding associations and candidates, except from a public fund (with loans limited to the average annual amount of donations received during the previous two years);
  5. a limit on spending during campaigns by parties, nomination race and election candidates, third party interest groups, and candidates in party leadership races (Alberta and the Yukon have no limits at all; only the federal government, B.C., Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec limit third party spending, and; no jurisdictions have limits on party leadership race spending);
  6. disclosure of all donations and gifts of money, property, services and volunteer labour given to any party, riding association, politician, nomination race, election or party leadership candidate, including the identity of the donor’s employer, and board and executive affiliations (and the identity of organizers of any fundraising event);
  7. a base amount of annual public funding for parties based on each vote received during the last election (which Quebec has — no more than $1 per vote, with a portion required to be shared with riding associations);
  8. annual public funding for parties matching the first $100,000-$200,000 raised (as in Quebec);
  9. public funding for candidates matching the first $20,000 raised (as in Quebec), and;
  10. a requirement that election, donation and ethics watchdogs conduct annual random audits to ensure all the rules are being followed by everyone.

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

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign