Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is asking the province’s electoral watchdog to conduct a wide-ranging probe of political parties’ fundraising practices.
Ms. Horwath’s request for an Elections Ontario investigation – which the Liberals are supporting – comes after recent controversies relating to how parties are raising money.
“In respect of the numerous concerns raised … we believe that the only way to move forward with the transparency that the people of Ontario deserve is with a full investigation of the fundraising practices employed by political parties in Ontario,” says a letter the opposition parties plan to send on Wednesday.
The NDP and Liberals criticized a recent Progressive Conservative Party fundraiser and questioned whether everyone who attended the $1,250-a-person dinner bought tickets using their own funds or whether corporations covered some people’s costs. Corporate and union donations are banned in Ontario.
House Leader Todd Smith said on Tuesday that he was “confident that our fundraisers have been completely above board.” When asked by Ms. Horwath to sign the letter asking for an investigation, Premier Doug Ford laughed and said he is focused on taking care of Ontarians.
The governing PC Party enlisted registered lobbyists to help sell tickets to their clients after initial sales for the Feb. 27 fundraiser lagged. Several sources within companies and industry groups said they felt pressure to attend and also help sell tickets to maintain high-level access to the government, The Globe and Mail reported last month. The sources were granted anonymity because they said they feared negative professional consequences. The party denied that people were told that government access could suffer if they didn’t buy tickets.
The letter notes that lobbyists generally represent companies, not individuals, and raises “serious questions” about possible violations of the law banning corporate donations relating to the event. However, the letter does not provide any concrete examples.
The letter highlights five companies with multiple employees who have the same names as people who recently donated $1,250 to the PC Party.
Senior officials from two of the firms, ARGO Development Corp. and Times Group Corp., said they and several colleagues attended the PC fundraising dinner and paid for their tickets with their own money.
Under new rules that took effect on Jan. 1, the Ford government scrapped a requirement that all individuals donating to political parties certify that contributions were from their own personal funds and that they will not be reimbursed.
For its part, the PC Party last week accused the NDP of holding a cash-for-access fundraiser, noting that a flyer for the March 23 event said that donors who paid $800 would receive a “reward” of attending a private reception with Ms. Horwath.
Mr. Ford alleged in the legislature that the NDP engaged in “illegal fundraising” and threatened to ask the Ontario Provincial Police to investigate. He also said the NDP posted notice of the event four days before it took place, instead of the required seven.
Ms. Horwath says her party followed all the rules. The NDP provided screengrabs from the backend of their website and a staff chat group that show the party’s plans to post their fundraiser online within the required timeline.
A spokeswoman for Elections Ontario said the agency does not comment on whether it is investigating a matter. Meanwhile, Independent MPP Randy Hillier told reporters on Tuesday he has had discussions with Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner regarding his allegations of possible illegal or unregistered lobbying by the Premier’s close friends and advisers, but refused to provide further details.
“My office and [the Integrity Commissioner] are presently scheduling further discussions on these matters,” he said, adding that Mr. Ford’s government has created a “culture of fear and intimidation” at Queen’s Park.
Mr. Hillier, who is also signing the letter to Elections Ontario, alleged he was expelled from the PC caucus earlier this month, in part, for raising concerns about illegal lobbying.
Mr. Smith dismissed Mr. Hillier’s claims as baseless.