Kathleen Wynne promises to close byelection fundraising loophole

Premier Kathleen Wynne is promising to close a loophole that allowed her party to raise millions during local byelection campaigns, in response to a CBC News story revealing the extent of the practice.

Premier vows change after CBC News reveals how Liberals raised millions in local byelection campaigns

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne promised Friday to change campaign fundraising rules after CBC News reported the Liberals used a loophole to collect millions of dollars for byelection campaigns. (Mathieu Belanger/Reuters)

Premier Kathleen Wynne is promising to close a loophole that allowed her party to raise millions during local byelection campaigns, in response to a CBC News story revealing the extent of the practice. 

CBC News revealed the Ontario Liberal Party amassed $1.6 million in this year's Whitby-Oshawa byelection campaign, 10 times more than they were allowed to spend on the campaign.

The party also collected more than $2.2 million during last year's Sudbury byelection campaign, 26 times the spending limit in that riding.  

The Liberals could then use the unspent money to fill their party coffers. The huge fundraising drives for individual byelections reveal a loophole that allows donors with deep pockets to give more than Ontario's annual spending limits.

Under the current rules, a donor can give no more than $9,975 to a party during a calendar year. However, each donor can also contribute an extra $9,975 for each byelection. 

Responding to the CBC story, Wynne promised reform. 

"Do we need to change those rules? Yes, I think that that byelection rule needs to change," she said during a news conference in Barrie on Friday.

Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown said there needs to be a full public inquiry about campaign spending in Ontario. (CBC)

Wynne said the rules were the same for all parties and "were put in place to allow parties to raise money to do what political parties do, which is engage with the public, get their message out, campaign." 

"They obviously drove a truck through that loophole," opposition Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown told a news conference Friday at Queen's Park. "This is one of many loopholes that I think needs to be cleaned up."  

Brown renewed his calls for an inquiry into campaign financing.

He said public trust in the government has eroded, and said the only way to get answers on whether fundraising interfered with the government's decisions is to hold a full public inquiry.

"If the premier and her ministers have nothing to hide why would they run from a public inquiry?"

The two opposition parties also benefit from the loophole, but have raised less money.

For the Whitby-Oshawa byelection, the Progressive Conservatives amassed $783,809. For the Sudbury campaign, they raised $512,786.

Meantime, the New Democrats' totals were even smaller: $51,319 for Whitby-Oshawa and $59,638 for Sudbury.

Liberals filed donor money under 'byelection' quota

Several donors have told CBC News the money they donated was not intended for the byelections, but the Liberals allocated it toward the campaign quotas anyway. ​

Elections Ontario information shows the Liberals reported the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) as donating the maximum $9,975 to the party for the Whitby-Oshawa byelection. By filing the contribution under the Whitby-Oshawa byelection, the Liberals could get more money from the Law Society in 2016.

"We provided no direct contribution to the Whitby byelection," said LSUC media relations manager, Orli Giroux Namian, in a statement emailed to CBC News. "‎In 2016, we attended the (Liberal party) Heritage Dinner." 

The Law Society is the regulatory body that oversees Ontario's lawyers and paralegals. It is funded by a fee lawyers are obligated to pay to the society. Namian added the society supports all three official parties "even-handedly."

Colleges Ontario -- representing the province';s publicly-funded colleges donated $9,975 to the Liberals' byelection campaign in Whitby-Oshawa, it also contributed another $6,000 to the party for the 2016 calendar year.

"Colleges Ontario is a trade association and is allowed to make contributions to the parties. Our organization contributes to all of the political parties," said Amy Dickson, media relations for Ontario Colleges, said in an email to CBC News.