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NDP want Liberals to consult widely before changing political contribution rules

TORONTO — The New Democrats want changes to Ontario's rules governing political donations, but they don't want Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals making them on their own.

Facing accusations the Liberals are selling access to the premier and cabinet ministers at expensive and exclusive dinners and cocktail receptions, Wynne promises to tighten the rules on donations to political parties.

Wynne said in Kingston today that Ontario will be "moving towards" the federal model, which bans corporate and union donations outright and has much lower caps for personal contributions to political parties.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says people need to know that provincial politics "isn't under the influence of big money," but she wants Wynne to consult the opposition leaders, the chief electoral officer and the public before changing the rules.

Horwath says decisions on how the democratic process is financed must come from a widespread consensus "beyond the governing party and indeed beyond the parties themselves."

The non-profit Democracy Watch says Horwath and Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown also hold high-priced, invitation-only fundraisers, and asked the Integrity Commissioner to declare such events as "illegal gifts" to politicians.

"Low-priced, large, public events at which no one gets special access to the politician are clearly legal under the conflict-of-interest laws because the donation is not made to gain access to the politician, and therefore is not connected directly or indirectly to their position," the group said in a letter to Integrity Commissioner David Wake.

Federally, people can contribute a maximum of $1,525 to each party annually, plus another $1,525 in total to all the registered associations and candidates of each party.

In Ontario, people, corporations or unions can donate $9,775 to a party each year, another $9,975 to the party for each campaign period, plus $6,650 annually to constituency associations of any one party, but no more than $1,330 annually to a single constituency association. They can also donate $6,650 to candidates of any one party in a campaign, but no more than $1,330 to a single candidate.

Ontario also has no limits on contributions to political leadership candidates.

Elections Ontario figures show the Liberals raised $9.01 million in 2015, which included two provincial byelections, while the Progressive Conservatives received $6.7 million, almost half of that from donations to their leadership race. The NDP got just over $1.8 million in contributions in 2015.

The Liberals raised another $2.5 million from a $1,600-a-plate fundraising dinner on Wednesday night in Toronto, where some donors paid an extra $1,000 to get into a 30-minute "pre-reception."

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Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press

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