Ontario political parties want taxpayers to fund campaigns

As Ontario's governing Liberals move to ban donations from corporations and unions and reduce the maximum donation from individuals, they're turning to another source of funding: the public purse.

With corporate and union donations to be banned, parties to get annual subsidy worth millions.

The Ontario Liberals are proposing a new taxpayer-funded subsidy to the political parties worth some $10.7 million each year. All the opposition parties support the measure as a way of replacing lost funding from the looming ban on corporate and union donations. (Bruce Reeve/CBC)

As Ontario's political parties move to limit the influence of big money in election campaigns, they're turning elsewhere for funding: the public purse. 

Premier Kathleen Wynne's governing Liberal party is bringing in legislation Tuesday to ban donations from corporations and unions starting in 2017 and drastically reduce the maximum annual donation from individuals. 

The same Liberal bill also proposes a new annual subsidy to the parties worth $2.26 per each vote they received in the last election. It would give some $10.7 million from provincial taxpayers to the parties annually, starting next year, divided this way: 

Proposed annual taxpayer funding to Ontario political parties
 Progressive Conservatives$3,409,912
New Democrats$2,587,297
Green Party$525,531

Asked how taxpayers will react to subsidizing Ontario's political parties, Liberal house leader Yasir Naqvi replied, "Democracy is not free." 

Naqvi said he firmly believes in the "clash of ideas" that happens in multi-party election campaigns. "You want to be able to have opportunities for political parties to engage in that healthy debate. That does require money," he told a news conference Tuesday at the Legislature

While all the main political parties support the proposed subsidy, some non-politicians question whether money to campaign should come directly from taxpayers. 

"That's $10.7 million that isn't paying to build roads or bridges," said Christine Van Geyn, Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. "It's $10.7 million of your money that isn't filling in potholes, treating autistic children, or paying doctors' salaries."

The annual amount each party receives would change in 2019 based on the results of the election scheduled in 2018.

The opposition leaders side unanimously with the Liberals in favour of the per-vote subsidy.

The leader of the Green Party of Ontario, Mike Schreiner, favours the per-vote allowance that will net his party $525,000 next year. He argues that taxpayers already subsidize the parties by giving tax deductions for political donations. (Flickr)

"If we're going to be getting the big money out, like the union and corporate donations, there has to be a way of funding the democracy," NDP leader Andrea Horwath told reporters Tuesday at the Legislature. "Having a public financing model, that creates a level playing field." 

Green Party leader Mike Schreiner argues that taxpayers already subsidize the parties by giving tax deductions for political donations.   

"People being able to direct their donations through voting is more democratic and more fair," Schreiner said to reporters. 

PC leader Patrick Brown supports the subsidy in the short term but wants it gone more quickly than the Liberals' proposed timetable. 

"We want it to be phased out completely," Brown told reporters at Queen's Park. "That's still my goal, that it would not be a permanent feature of our elections," 

The bill proposes continuing the subsidies for at least five years, reducing the allowance to $1.70 per vote by the year 2021, and reviewing the amount after that.

"Let's have a conversation five years from now to determine whether that per vote subsidy should continue or be eliminated," Naqvi told a news conference Tuesday at Queen's Park. 

At the federal level, the Liberals introduced a per-vote subsidy in 2004 when the Chrétien government banned corporate and union donations. The minority Harper government moved to phase out the subsidy in 2008 but the opposition parties rebelled. After winning its 2011 majority, the Conservative government ended the subsidy entirely in 2015.   


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