TORONTO — Jean-Pierre Kingsley, who oversaw Canada's federal elections for 17 years, says Ontario's proposed caps on political donations still sound "excessive."
The former chief electoral officer told a committee looking at the Liberal government's legislation to tighten fundraising rules that the proposed maximum annual contribution limit of $1,550 to a party is reasonable, but in an election year, people would be able to donate much more.
"The test here, in my mind, is: does this buy particular access to a party or to a candidate?" Kingsley said.
Jean-Pierre Kingsley speaks at a news conference in Ottawa in March 2002. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/CP)
While $1,550 doesn't, he said, people will also be allowed to contribute up to $3,100 to a party's candidates and another $3,100 to constituency associations — a total of $7,750.
"Seven thousand dollars sounds excessive to me," he said.
Overall, the bill looks "very good," Kingsley said, but the government should re-examine contribution limits as well as per-vote subsidies and how often contributions are disclosed.
The legislation proposes to ban corporate and union donations, and give each party a $2.26-per-vote subsidy to offset that loss of income. The bill calls for that amount to drop to $1.70 after five years then review whether it should be continued.
'It sustains political party life'
Federal per vote subsidies were phased out after Ottawa banned corporate and union donations to political parties in 2006, but Kingsley is calling for Ontario's proposed subsidy to be made permanent, saying it lets parties to count on a regular source of revenue and allows them to focus more on crafting policy.
"It sustains political party life," he said.
The public disclosure of those contributions should happen on a weekly or even daily basis, Kingsley said. That information could very easily be regularly updated online, which would be a great benefit to the public, Kingsley said after speaking to the committee.
"The satisfaction of knowing that this game belongs to me, the elector, therefore I know everything that's going on, which I need to know to form an opinion about what's going on — it's as simple as that," he said. "It's called a right to know, which is fundamental in our democracy."
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne delivers a speech at a symposium on Women Politics at Ottawa Univesity in Ottawa, Thursday, March 5, 2015. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/CP)
The Liberals introduced the legislation amid allegations they were selling access to cabinet ministers at high-priced dinners and receptions. Premier Kathleen Wynne scrambled to defuse rising criticism about fundraising quotas of up to $500,000 each for Liberal cabinet ministers.
She admitted that private fundraisers involving cabinet ministers did not look good, and put a stop to the practice in April. But Liberal ministers and the premier continue to solicit donations at receptions they deem public by posting them on the party website, though a list of attendees is not made public.
The Progressive Conservatives are calling on the government to address this in the bill.
"There is absolutely nothing in this legislation that will stop or even limit the cash-for-access system that it appears the Liberals have had in place for years," said party deputy leader Steve Clark. "We are concerned they have left this loophole in because they know how effective it is for their coffers, and they have no desire to end this practice moving forward."
NDP critic Catherine Fife blamed the Liberals for "the problem of cash-for-access fundraisers."
"It's no wonder that their proposed solution is full of loopholes," Fife said Monday.
"Ontarians have called on Kathleen Wynne to take the big money out of politics in Ontario. It's about time the premier started listening."