Mike Schreiner’s blog was originally published on Huffington Post on 04-11-2016
The rot of big money in Ontario politics stinks. People want action now to clean up the mess.
Comprehensive fundraising reform is essential to renewing our democracy. Instead it seems we have politicians playing political games — to fix the political games that got us here in the first place.
The status quo parties at Queen’s Park have laser-sharp focus when it comes to attacks on each other’s fundraising practices. The accusations they are throwing around ask who is selling access to whom. The truth: none of the three parties at Queen’s Park have a clean record on donations.
I support calls for inquiries into past practices and committees to consult the public, but I don’t want these efforts to delay passing legislation to transform the system. Fixes should be in place before the 2018 provincial election.
Delay tactics like the blame game at Queen’s Park are harmful. Over the past years, I’ve watched urgent issues fade into oblivion without change under the Liberals’ watch. For example, in 2011 the Liberals were under intense pressure from opposition to the Melancthon Mega Quarry.
So they made an election promise to review the Aggregate Resources Act. But after five years of hearings, a report and more consultation, nothing has changed. Another mega quarry could be proposed. I don’t want the same to happen with fundraising reform.
We need transformational change now to get the stink out of Queen’s Park.
To start, we need to immediately eliminate corporate and union donations. Big corporations and well-heeled individuals should not be able to buy access to power. There appears to be broad consensus on this. Why wait to make it happen?
Next, Ontario needs to dramatically lower contribution limits. Immediately lowering annual contribution limits to match federal levels is a step in the right direction. This would reduce contribution limits from $9,785 to $1,500. Eventually, I would like the annual limits to be set under $1,000. In Quebec, they are $100.
The $1,500 should be a hard cap. To achieve this Ontario will need to disallow additional contributions to byelection campaigns and leadership campaigns. The premier has already hinted at her support for this, so we could move quickly on this as well.
But we can’t stop there. Ontario desperately needs a comprehensive set of fundraising reforms to restore trust in the integrity of government decision making.
To create a more democratic system and get the corrosive influence of big money out of politics, we need a public financing system that is democratic
After Stephen Harper cancelled the federal government’s per-vote funding system,some reform advocates worry that an idea like this will not receive public support. Under the federal system, taxpayer funding was allocated to parties based on their percentage of the popular vote. The concern is that people won’t support our tax dollars going to fund political parties.
But the truth is we already do. Currently, public financing is a pay-to-play model that undemocratically benefits big donors through generous tax credits. For example, a $2,500 donor will receive a refundable tax credit of approximately $1,150. Our tax dollars cover the cost of almost half of the donation.
A per-vote allowance is a more democratic form of public financing. It doesn’t exclude citizens who don’t have deep pockets. It’s a vote-to-play system. It empowers every citizen with an opportunity to help support the party of their choice with their vote.
Even though the vast amount of money will still flow to the major parties, a per-vote allowance gives smaller parties a bigger incentive to get their vote out in order to qualify for funding. All parties have an incentive to engage voters, even in ridings where they are generally not competitive. This will enrich our democracy.
Additional reforms should include restrictions on third-party advertising, lower spending limits for parties during writ and pre-writ periods, and better disclosure and oversight rules.
Ontario’s political fundraising rules need radical change. This change should not be delayed because of bickering among the status quo parties. The time to act is now.