TORONTO — The leaders of Ontario's main political parties are meeting Monday to discuss fundraising reforms following two weeks of unrelenting opposition attacks over expensive and exclusive dinners for Liberal donors.
Premier Kathleen Wynne promised to introduce legislation this spring to make changes that include a ban on corporate and union donations as the opposition assails fundraising targets set for Liberal cabinet ministers.
Patrick Brown, leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservatives, says he wants a public inquiry over fundraising, while NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has called on Wynne to include the province's chief electoral officer in the process of establishing new rules.
Wynne says she'll ask the opposition leaders if they think byelection fundraising rules should be changed before she introduces broader legislation. There's a pending byelection in Scarborough-Rouge River.
Liberals accused of selling government access
Current rules mean parties can raise far more during a byelection than they are allowed to spend, and allow individuals, companies and unions to donate $9,975, on top of the $9,775 they can spend annually, and in addition to donations to constituency associations and candidates.
The meeting with Wynne, Brown and Horwath comes as the debate over fundraising heats up, with opposition parties suggesting that the Liberals have effectively been selling access to the government by hosting expensive fundraisers with cabinet ministers in attendance.
Deputy Premier Deb Matthews fired back late last week, accusing Brown of raising issues in the legislature on behalf of donors to his own party.
The next day, Wynne lamented that the debate had become "politicized in a way that pushes people to cast aspersions on one another." But she defended Matthews by saying she was simply responding to questions.
"The only reason they are talking about changing the rules now is because it looks like they got caught." —Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown
Brown, however, said Matthews was "pulling at straws" and that a public inquiry is needed to examine the fundraising activities of all parties.
"Right now ... it looks like to have the ear of the government that you have to participate in their fundraising and a public inquiry would shed light on that," he said.
"This government doesn't want to talk about their past conduct. The only reason they are talking about changing the rules now is because it looks like they got caught."
Brown also wants an all-party committee to look at the issue, and is calling for beefed-up lobbying restrictions.
Wynne has admitted that private fundraisers involving cabinet ministers and the lobbyists who paid big bucks to meet with them did not look good, and put a stop to the practice last week. But Liberal cabinet ministers and the premier will continue to solicit donations at "public" dinners and receptions.