Kitchener-Waterloo

Corporate and union donation ban won't level municipal playing field, regional councillors say

Sean Strickland and Elizabeth Clarke may have had very different campaign fundraising tactics but they agree on one thing: The Ontario government's plan to ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections will do little to make politics more accessible.
Sean Strickland and Elizabeth Clarke may have had very different campaign fundraising strategies but they agree on one thing: The Ontario government's plan to ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections won't do much to make politics more accessible. (Contributed by: Twitter, Region of Waterloo)

The Ontario government's move to ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections won't do much to level the playing field, two local councillors say. 

The move, announced last week by the province, would force municipal and school board candidates to solicit only individual donations to fund their campaigns. 

But it could have unintended consequences, said regional councillor Sean Strickland, who had the most corporate and union donations of any council candidate in the 2014 Region of Waterloo municipal election. 

"If you ban those donations, are you just leaving elections open to very well-financed individuals to come in and buy elections through their own personal wealth? I don't that does anything to strengthen democracy," he said.

What's worse, it could make the whole system less transparent, regional councillor Elizabeth Clarke said. She largely self-funded her campaign and had no corporate and union contributions. 

"Toronto banned corporate and union donations years ago," Clarke said.

But, she noted, that didn't stop the cash from flowing, just harder to track. 

"The developers were still making the donations, they were just making them as individuals," Clarke said. 

"So the donations were still happening but the transparency was less. And I would think that the transparency would be at least as important as any influence they might have."

Other ways to 'level playing field'

Both suggest there are other ways to level the playing field and make municipal politics more accessible to more people. 

Clarke suggested instead, the government should be looking at the impact of political party affiliations. 

"A riding association can't give a candidate a cheque, but they certainly can give a candidate huge amounts of volunteer support and donor lists," she said. 

Strickland would like to see financing and reporting rules strengthened and allow for other revenue sources in municipal elections.

"I don't think there's a problem municipally with corporate and union donations. I think we're getting caught up in the backwash of a provincial problem," he said.

"And if they want to change it, to lump us in with them – there's not much we can do about it but at least give us the funding mechanism, the same way they're giving themselves the funding mechanism."

Unlike donations made to federal candidates, municipal donors don't get tax receipts for their donations.

But some cities, like Toronto, have contribution rebate programs, where the city provides a rebate of up to $1,000 for any individual who donates to a candidate's campaign.

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