Ontario taxpayers gave $163M to Liberal Party's biggest corporate donor

The biggest corporate donor to the Ontario Liberal Party is also one of the biggest corporate recipients of government funding, CBC News has uncovered.

Ethanol-maker GreenField Specialty Alcohols has donated $480,000 to Kathleen Wynne's party since 2007

GreenField's plant in Chatham, Ont. produces more than 100 million litres of fuel ethanol each year. The company is the biggest corporate donor to the Ontario Liberal Party since 2013. (GreenField Ethanol)

The biggest corporate donor to the Ontario Liberal Party is also one of Ontario's biggest recipients of taxpayer-funded corporate subsidies.

Research by CBC News reveals that GreenField Specialty Alcohols Inc. and its related companies have received more than $160 million in government support since the Liberal government created a dedicated fund for the ethanol industry. 

Further research by CBC News also shows that GreenField,companies and its founder have donated more than $480,000 to the Ontario Liberal Party in the same time period. The political contributions make GreenField the biggest corporate donor to the Ontario Liberals since Kathleen Wynne became premier in 2013. 

The government of Dalton McGuinty mandated that every litre of gasoline in the province must contain 5 per cent ethanol, starting in 2007. At the same time his Liberal government also created the $520-million Ontario Ethanol Growth Fund. That funding helped kickstart the building of the six ethanol plants in the province — three of which are owned by GreenField — and annually subsidizes ethanol producers' operations. 

Kathleen Wynne received a $10,000 donation to her leadership campaign from GreenField's chairman, and her party has received more than $300,000 from the company and its subsidiaries since she became premier in 2013. (Christophe Ena/Canadian Press)

GreenField is a privately-held company headquartered in Toronto. The ethanol maker calls itself "the leading specialty alcohols producer in Canada." It has three Ontario plants: at the St Lawrence Seaway port of Johnstown, in the southwestern Ontario town of Chatham, and at Tiverton, near the Bruce nuclear generating station.

The payouts to GreenField over the years are contained in Ontario's Public Accounts. Data compiled by CBC News show that the company has received  $163,658,109 from provincial taxpayers over the years. 

Ontario Government Payments to GreenField Specialty Alcohols

2006-07: $1,296,151

2007-08: $4,333,851

2008-09: $9,252,961

2009-10: $23,314,313

2010-11: $24,942,894

2011-12: $30,276,474

2012-13: $31,903,360

2013-14: $17,416,416

2014-15: $10,691,919

2015-16: $10,229,770

Total: $163,658,109

More than 90 per cent of that money — $148 million — came from the Ethanol Growth Fund. The rest was a $15 million grant for the company to make investments at its plants.

Data from Elections Ontario compiled by CBC News show GreenField's donations to the Ontario Liberal Party total $480,889 since 2007, but really ramped up once Kathleen Wynne became Premier in 2013.

Donations to the Ontario Liberal Party from GreenField companies and founder 

2007: $23,765
2008: $7,900
2009: $26,350
2010: $19,095
2011: $22,900
2012: $20,000
2013: $102,149
2014: $182,580
2015: $56,225
2016: $19,925
Total: $480,889

Included in the tally of contributions to the Liberals are donations in the name of several arms of GreenField Specialty Alcohols, as well as its chairman and founder Kenneth Field. Among other donations, Field personally gave $10,000 to Kathleen Wynne's successful run for the Ontario Liberal party leadership in 2013.  

GreenField's total donations frequently topped the maximum allowed of $9.975 because it made separate donations under each of its corporate arms. In 2014 alone, Elections Ontario records show the following donations to the Liberals, totaling $182,580:

2014 Donations to Ontario Liberal Party

$9,975: GreenField Specialty Alcohols Inc. (General Election)
$9,975: GreenField Ethanol (Johnstown) Inc. (General Election)
$9,975: GreenField Ethanol (Hensall) Inc. (General Election)
$9,975: Greenfield Hensall G.P. Inc. (General Election)
$9,975: GreenField Specialty Alcohols Inc. (byelections)
$9,975: GreenField Ethanol (Johnstown) Inc. (byelections)
$9,975: GreenField Ethanol (Hensall) Inc. (byelections)
$9,975: Greenfield Hensall G.P. Inc. (byelections)
$9,975: Kenneth Field (byelections)
$9,975: GreenField Specialty Alcohols Inc. (annual period)
$9,975: GreenField Ethanol (Johnstown) Inc. (annual period)
$9,975: GreenField Ethanol (Hensall) Inc. (annual period)
$9,975: Greenfield Hensall G.P. Inc. (annual period)
$5,025: Kenneth Field (annual period)

$47,880: donations of $1,330 each to 36 constituency associations or candidates

"Any inference that GreenField has made donations for an inappropriate purpose is without merit," said company CEO Bob Gallant in an email to CBC News. "Our company proudly supports politicians of all political stripes, at all levels of government (federal, provincial and municipal) who support the ethanol industry." 

Elections Ontario data indicate GreenField has donated $90,350 to the Progressive Conservatives since 2007 (but just $33,500 of that since 2013) and nothing to the NDP.

Company and public officials at GreenField Ethanol's ethanol processing plant in Johnstown, Ont., commemorate the arrival of its first truckload of corn on Nov. 21, 2008. ((GreenField Ethanol/Canadian Press))

During the same time period, while the Harper Conservatives were in power, GreenField received $263 million from the federal government through the ecoEnergy for BioFuels program. Corporate donations to federal political parties are banned.

The Wynne government says the process for doling out the millions of dollars in ethanol subsidies is "non-partisan"

"Ministry officials evaluate which companies receive funding," said Christina Crowley-Arklie, communications advisor to Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal, in an email. 

She said the $520-million Ontario Ethanol Growth Fund (OEGF) "has created more than 300 skilled jobs while generating $635 million in capital investments." 

NDP leader Andrea Horwath raised the GreenField donations during Question Period on Monday,  

"It's worrisome when you continue to see these companies that are donating significant amounts of money to the Liberal party then receive a significant amount of money in grants," Horwath told reporters at the Legislature.  

PC leader Patrick Brown questioned "disproportionate donations" by companies that stand to benefit from taxpayer handouts. "It seems like every few days there's a new example and it highlights why the government's crossed the line," Brown told reporters.  

$520M fund a 'safety net' for industry

GreenField's CEO describes the fund as a "safety net" for Ontario ethanol producers, with payouts determined by a formula based on annual production, foreign exchange rates and commodity prices.  

And he credits the Liberal government for creating the fund to kickstart the ethanol industry in the province. "Without the OEGF, the ethanol would have been imported from the United States and Brazil," said Gallant.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa defended the taxpayer subsidies to ethanol companies as helping the economy. 

"It's a tremendous industry," Sousa told reporters Monday at the Legislature. "It's bolstering the agricultural industry in a huge way and it's also providing a cleaner environment." 

Other Ontario ethanol producers have contributed money to the parties and received government funding since 2006, but none of them has contributed anywhere near as much to the Liberals as GreenField.

The Suncor Energy Products Inc. ethanol plant near Sarnia is the largest in Canada and produces more fuel ethanol than GreenField's three plants combined. Suncor has received $189.5 million from the provincial government, according to data in the Public Accounts. 

Since 2006, Suncor has given $103,595 to the Liberals, $77,650 to the PCs and $15,870 to the NDP, according to Elections Ontario data.

IGPC Ethanol Inc., located in Aylmer, has received $91.8 million from the province. The company has donated $20,000 to the Liberals and $7,060 to the PCs. 

The ethanol and biodiesel lobby group, the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association — of which GreenField and IGPC are members — has donated $87,815 to the Liberals and $25,275 to the PCs. 

Wynne has promised to ban corporate and union donations effective next year. 


Mike Crawley

Senior reporter

Mike Crawley covers provincial affairs in Ontario for CBC News. He began his career as a newspaper reporter in B.C., filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist, then joined the CBC in 2005. Mike was born and raised in Saint John, N.B.