Toronto

NDP, Liberals, Greens fear Doug Ford will end party subsidies

Ontario's political parties are getting more than $12 million this year in taxpayer-funded subsidies, and they are wondering if Premier Doug Ford will soon turn off the tap.

Parties get annual allowance from public funds now that corporate and union donations are banned

Doug Ford promised earlier this year that he would eliminate Ontario's public subsidy to political parties if he became premier. 'If a party cannot raise its own money to run its campaign, it will no longer be able to rely on the government to get it from the taxpayer,' said Ford. (Andrew Ryan/The Canadian Press)

Ontario's political parties are getting more than $12 million this year in taxpayer-funded subsidies, and they are wondering if Premier Doug Ford will soon turn off the tap. 

The subsidies began in 2017, after the Wynne government banned political donations from companies and unions and reduced the annual maximum that any one person can contribute to party coffers.

Ford vowed to scrap the allowances earlier this year, when he was seeking the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives. 

"When I am elected Premier I will stand up for all Ontario taxpayers and eliminate the per-vote subsidy given to political parties," Ford wrote in this Facebook post. 

"This will save taxpayers millions of dollars each year," wrote Ford. "If a party cannot raise its own money to run its campaign, it will no longer be able to rely on the government to get it from the taxpayer."

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath makes a campaign stop in Brampton. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

Each party gets a quarterly allowance based on the number of votes they received in the last election. If the subsidies continue, next year's funding would be:

  • PC: $5.5 million
  • NDP: $4.6 million 
  • Liberal: $2.6 million 
  • Green: $630,000

The parties' fundraising haul dropped steeply once corporate and union contributions were prohibited. Last year, all four main parties collected more from the per-vote subsidy than they did from donations.

The prospect that the subsidy will disappear is sparking some fear among the parties.

"I'm deeply concerned because we don't want big money to come back into Ontario politics," said Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner.  

"What should be happening is lower donation limits for individuals and keep the public funding in place because that's the most democratic way of funding political parties," Schreiner said Tuesday in an interview at Queen's Park.  

"There has to be a way for our democracy to function and for parties to be able to finance their operations and then their campaigns," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told reporters Tuesday. "We don't want to see it go back to the bad old days when the Liberals were using cash-for-access fundraising opportunities."

Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner calls a per-vote public subsidy 'the most democratic way of funding political parties.' (Kenneth Armstron/Canadian Press)

The Liberals appear to be in the worst financial shape of the four main parties. The party is $9 million in debt, interim leader John Fraser said last weekend

Fraser admits it would be a challenge for the Liberals to recover financially if they lose the $2.6 million in annual public funding they stand to get, but says the party has factored the eventual scrapping of the subsidy into its plans. 

"It is a concern," Fraser said in an interview Tuesday. "I'm not going to say it's going to make it any easier, but we've thought about it."

Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy, the Ford cabinet minister in charge of finding cost savings, says he is not eyeing the political party subsidy just yet. 

"That's not on the radar screen," Bethlenfalvy told reporters Tuesday. "We have a $15-billion deficit so we have to focus on the big things. That's maybe not at the top of the list."

The latest available figures from Elections Ontario show the parties' fundraising totals from donations so far this year are:

  • PC: $3.3 million  
  • NDP $1.9 million
  • Liberal: $1 million 
  • Green $423,000 

About the Author

Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C.

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