Shown to be in the pockets of large corporate donors via pay-for-access schemes, the Wynne government has also been the patsy of unions, squandering billions of tax dollars as a reward for ethically challenged election support.
An investigation by the Globe and Mail shows unions accounted for 94 per cent of all third-party advertising during the last three provincial elections. Collectively, they spent $15.4 million of the $16.4 million spent thusly since 2007. Corporate advertising amounted to $641,000 – we know they tend to go the direct route when it comes to influence – while other advocacy groups spent $409,000, according to the newspaper’s findings.
On the union side, most of the advertising by a pair of umbrella groups – Project Ontario and Working Families – came in the form of attack ads against the Progressive Conservatives.
Reeling from revelations of fundraising quotas and the selling of access to the premier and cabinet ministers, Wynne at first denied the practice, then downplayed it before promising legislation to reform election fundraising and to put some controls on third-party election spending.
Almost assuredly, whatever measures finally adopted won’t go far enough: an outright ban on donations and third-party advertising. Real democratic reform would also end lobbying, as well as the revolving door between government and corporations/lobbyists.
As it stands right now in Ontario, individuals, companies and unions can contribute $9,775 annually to the party of their choice, plus the same amount again during an election campaign. If they’ve got another $6,650 each year, they can pass that along to the constituency associations.
A comparison to the larger federal campaigns does not put Ontario in a favourable light. Federal rules ban corporate and union donations, limiting individuals to a maximum of $1,525 to each party annually, plus another $1,525 to the riding associations and candidates of each party.
Still considered the bastion of corruption – old habits die hard – Quebec puts every other jurisdiction to shame when it comes to election finance reform. Along with banning donations from corporations, unions and other organizations, the province caps individual contributions at $100. It also limits third-party spending as part of the toughest controls on election financing in the country.
On the advertising side, the province is proposing to limit third-party spending. Bill 2001 would cap spending by corporations, unions and individuals at $100,000 during an election, and at $600,000 in the six months leading up to it.
Chief electoral officer Greg Essensa says the measures don’t go far enough, telling the Globe current rules are so lax they could allow politicians to “circumvent contribution and spending limits” by co-ordinating their campaigns with those of third-party advertisers.
Surveys consistently show that a large majority of us believe governments are driven by wealthy interest groups, especially corporate donors, and that governments regularly act unethically to help their business friends and are not doing enough to stop corruption. The same applies to public sector unions, as the bureaucracy bloats and those on the payroll have a growing influence on policies that benefit themselves at the public’s expense.
That needs to stop. An outright ban of such practices is needed, along with sweeping changes at Queen’s Park, starting with those currently abusing the power they have.