Doug Ford government changing some Ontario election laws
New legislation would increase campaign donation limit, tighten controls over interest group advertising
With Ontario's next election little more than a year away, the Ford government is proposing to increase campaign donation limits and to change rules governing political advertising by interest groups such as unions and Ontario Proud.
The changes are proposed in new legislation tabled Thursday afternoon that would make 19 amendments to Ontario's Election Act and Election Finances Act.
One change would double the maximum annual donation that an individual can make to a political party, boosting it to $3,300 effective this year.
The amendments also include a plan to extend the $13 million annual taxpayer-funded subsidy doled out among the major political parties based on the number of votes each received in the 2018 election.
Premier Doug Ford had promised to scrap that subsidy, and it was due to expire at the end of this year. Instead, the legislation would actually increase the subsidy, to an annual amount as follows:
- PC party $5.92 million
- NDP $4.91 million
- Liberal party $2.86 million
- Green party $673,000
The government says it is extending the subsidy until 2024 "due to the financial impact of COVID-19." However, not all parties saw donations drop dramatically in 2020 compared with the previous year, according to real-time-disclosure records on the Elections Ontario website.
The PCs reported $4.5 million in donations to the provincial party in 2020, while its comparable figure for 2019 was $5 million. The Liberal party reported $3.5 million in donations in 2020, more than triple its haul in 2019.
The NDP's reported fundraising total for 2020 sits at $1.8 million, while 2019 donations to the party were reported as $2.25 million. The Green Party reported $780,000 in donations for 2020, virtually identical to its 2019 amount.
The 2020 figures may not capture all donations as the parties are not required to report donations under $100 on the real-time-disclosure website, although some do.
Unions and corporations have been banned from donating to Ontario's political parties since 2017, under reforms introduced by the then-Liberal government. The limit for annual donation by an individual was set at $1,600 and has risen with inflation each year.
Unions and corporations are allowed to donate to the political activity of interest groups that are not political parties.
Such non-party groups (dubbed "third parties" in Ontario election law) spent $5 million on campaign-related activities in the run-up to the 2018 election, an amount that dwarfs such spending in other provinces.
Among the biggest spenders were Ontario Proud, along with the Ontario Medical Association, the Ontario Real Estate Association, the union-funded Working Families group, and Unifor.
The proposed changes would impose a spending limit of $637,200 on each group over a year-long period leading up to the election. A $600,000 spending limit was in effect for just six months before the 2018 campaign.
Attorney General Doug Downey said the amendments would reduce the influence these groups have on the election campaigns.
"We're not trying to prohibit them having a voice, we're trying to find a balance," Downey said in an interview Thursday before he tabled the legislation. "How much impact does a third party need to have in Ontario's political circles, in Ontario's elections?"
Other proposed changes to the election laws include:
- Parties would only have to post a notice on their website of any fundraising event three days in advance of the event. The current requirement is seven days in advance.
- The available number of advance polling days available ahead of the election would be doubled to 10 from the current five.
- The chief elector officer would be given the power to issue fines for minor infractions of the election laws. The current practice is to refer all violations to the Attorney General for a decision on whether to prosecute.
Under Ontario's fixed election date law, the next election is scheduled for June 2, 2022.