How corporate and union donations affect municipal elections

As Queen's Park moves to ban corporate donations to municipal election candidates, a new study shows that they predominantly come from developers, most frequently in municipalities experiencing rapid growth.
Most corporate donations are from the development industry, and companies are more likely to donate in cities undergoing growth, says researcher Robert MacDermid. (CBC)

Corporate and union donations could soon be a thing of the past in Ontario municipal elections, as changes to the Municipal Act make their way through the provincial legislature. 

The donations are creating an unfair playing field, according to a statement by Ted McMeekin, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

"Most of the corporate money is from the development industry," said Robert MacDermid, who authored Money in Municipal Campaign Finances of 2014, on behalf of Campaign Fairness Ontario. 

"In studies that I've done over the last four or five elections, in places like Brampton and Mississauga, some sitting members of council will be funded almost entirely by the development industry and the corporate world."

The City of Toronto banned corporate and union donations in 2009, in advance of the 2010 municipal election. 

Developers donate more in growing cities

But the problem extends beyond the GTA, says former City of Waterloo Coun. Karen Scian. 

"The level and amount of development that is occurring in Waterloo Region at this moment in time far outstrips what you see in other communities," said Scian, who also ran unsuccessfully to become a regional councillor in the 2014 election.

"I think we need to be aware of that — be aware of the influence and the ability that developers have to impact the outcomes in government."

"During the last municipal election, one successful candidate received $27,850 in campaign donations from unions, corporations and developers. More than 80 per cent of those donations came from outside the region, and they funded 87 per cent of his election campaign," wrote Scian in a column on May 11. 

Growing cities are where developers tend to focus their dollars,MacDermid affirms.

Earlier this week, the Ontario Liberals introduced similar legislation governing provincial elections. The new rules reduce the amount individuals can contribute to provincial candidates and also ban corporate and union donations. 

With files from the CBC's Melanie Ferrier


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