Kathleen Wynne cancels all private fundraisers, tells ministers to do the same

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced Tuesday that she is cancelling all of her upcoming private fundraising events and is instructing members of her cabinet to do the same.

Move comes amid growing concern over private and pricey fundraising events

Premier Kathleen Wynne will be speaking with reporters this afternoon to announce details of her discussion with opposition leaders Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown and NDP leader Andrea Horwath around political fundraising. (Mathieu Belanger/Reuters)

In a surprise move, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced Tuesday that she is cancelling all of her upcoming private fundraising events and is instructing members of her cabinet to do the same. 

Wynne made the announcement in question period Tuesday in response to a query about Liberal party fundraising from PC Leader Patrick Brown. 

"I think we have to lead by example and that's why I've made the decision to immediately cancel upcoming private fundraisers that I attend," said Wynne. "I've also asked the same of my ministers. I think it's important that we get this right."

The news comes a week after the Liberals held their biggest fundraiser of the year, raising $2.5 million in one night.

Wynne's announcement also marked a change in her position on fundraising.

At a March 7 press conference, the premier said that "money to run a party has to come from somewhere.

"Every party does low-end fundraising and every party does high-end fundraising," she said. "I think it's part of the democratic process."

But she admitted that changes to how parties raise funds are needed.

"Are they the right rules? Do we need to change who can give what? Absolutely!" she said. "I think we need to look at that."

Her party has been criticized recently for their fundraising tactics, specifically over fundraising quotas for cabinet ministers. 

Political contribution limits in Ontario

  • $9,975 to a central party in any year.

  • An additional $9,975 to a central party for each campaign period.

  • $6,650 to a party's constituency associations in any year (but no more than $1,330 to each constituency).

  • $6,650 to a party's candidates during a campaign period, (but no more than $1,330 to each candidate).

Wynne said the Liberals will bring in new fundraising rules this spring, including a move to ban union and corporate donations.

On Tuesday in question period, Deputy Premier Deb Matthews challenged Brown to follow the Liberals' lead and cancel upcoming private fundraisers.

"I think if you look at your calendar on April 19, you will see that there's a scheduled $10,000-a-plate exclusive dinner. I believe it's at the Albany Club," Matthews told Brown.

"So let me ask the leader of the opposition: is he prepared to follow the premier's lead and cancel all future fundraising events? You can take out your eraser and take out that April 19 event right now."

Brown replied that unlike Wynne, he's not responsible for handing out government contracts. 

"The crux of the problem is that donors are feeling, the fundraisers are feeling, that to have the ear of government that any group has to donate to the Liberal Party," Brown said. "That is not how you conduct the business of the people of Ontario." 

NDP leader Andrea Horwath questioned Wynne's decision to come up with new political donation rules without input from the opposition parties, the chief electoral officer and the public.

"I believe that the premier putting herself in charge of making the rules that govern political campaigns is just wrong," Horwath said. "Using the government's majority to force through changes on how our democracy is financed will only lead to more public cynicism."

Wynne did send a letter to the opposition leaders on Sunday agreeing to meet and talk with them about reforming campaign finance rules.

"After we meet, and once you are able to consult within your parties, I am very interested to receive your formal input on a responsible way forward to reform the current system," the letter stated.

While Ontario's parties debate how they should be allowed to raise money, running a party remains an expensive endeavour.

The victorious Ontario Liberals spent $8 million on the 2014 election campaign, the PCs nearly $9.5 million and the NDP less than half that, $4.6 million.

Wynne has said there will be a transition period for the legislation that bans corporate and union donations and imposes new limits on personal contributions to political parties, so all the changes won't be in effect for the next election in 2018.

With files from Canadian Press

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