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Ontario political parties pack in fundraisers before rules change

The Ontario Liberal Party’s website lists 18 events for the nine weeks between Sept. 26 and Nov. 24., including at least three with Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Mere hours after the Ontario legislature unanimously passed the Premier's campaign finance reform bill at second reading last week, Kathleen Wynne led a crew of five cabinet ministers to a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser at a banquet hall in the Toronto suburbs.

The Oct. 4 event – the Liberals' Central Trillium Reception in Vaughan – was just one of an avalanche of fundraisers all three provincial political parties are squeezing in before the events are banned at the end of the year.

The legislation, Bill 2, would prohibit corporate and union donations and slash annual contribution limits to $3,600 starting on Jan. 1. The Premier has also vowed to amend the bill to ban all provincial politicians from attending fundraisers. The Liberals brought in the reforms after a series of Globe and Mail reports on the province's cash-for-access fundraising system, in which corporate leaders seeking to do business with government paid up to $10,000 for time with Ms. Wynne and members of her cabinet.

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Read more: An inside look at cash-for-access Ontario Liberal fundraisers

Now, politicians across the spectrum are trying to get in as many fundraisers as they can under the wire.

Progressive Conservative MPP Vic Fedeli bills a Nov. 24 luncheon at Toronto's Albany Club as "Fedeli's Final Funder" and explicitly asks corporations and unions to contribute one last time.

"As you are likely aware, fundraising rules are set to change at the end of the year. MPPs will NO LONGER be able to accept corporate or union donations," Mr. Fedeli wrote in an e-mail to prospective donors. "As this is the last time I can ask … please dig deep and donate to your maximum."

An invitation for an Oct. 5 "Northern Grit" reception featuring Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault and Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca at Peter Pan Bistro in Toronto, billed the $700-a-person evening as "special" and warned "tickets are limited."

And a mass e-mail from NDP president Mary Rita Holland last month urged donors to help the party "build a fund for the future before the fundraising rules change."

In total, the Ontario Liberal Party's website lists 18 events for the nine weeks between Sept. 26 and Nov. 24. These include at least three with Ms. Wynne, the Trillium reception, a $1,000-a-head evening on Oct. 6 with International Trade Minister Michael Chan at the offices of geothermal company Menergy in Richmond Hill, and a $300-a-ticket garden party on Oct. 30 in her Don Valley West riding.

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The Progressive Conservatives list 15 fundraisers between mid-October and early December, including six with leader Patrick Brown. Among Mr. Brown's events are a $1,000-a-person reception on Oct. 20 at the home of Toronto food wholesale executive Gregg Badger, and a $500-a-ticket evening on Nov. 21 at the offices of Gowling WLG.

Exactly how many fundraisers are taking place is hard to determine. Last spring, both Ms. Wynne and Mr. Brown pledged to start posting all events on their parties' websites ahead of time, but the rule has been followed inconsistently. The NDP does not post any public list of upcoming fundraisers.

Liberal spokeswoman Patricia Favre would not say whether the party had stepped up its fundraising in anticipation of Bill 2. "We continue to operate under the current rules, as do both the PCs and NDP. Our commitment is to post all events prior to them taking place, and that's what we've been doing," she wrote in an e-mail.

Mr. Fedeli said he supports banning corporate and union donations, but fears that after the rules change, he will not be able to raise enough money for work-related expenses, such as printing booklets and some travel, that the legislature does not cover. "I would like to collect all I can under the current rules while those rules are still in place. I think it's only fair to ask for the corporate and union donations while we're allowed to."

Mr. Fedeli said he did not see the need to include his Final Funder on the party's public list because he had already e-mailed the invitation to "thousands" of contacts, including some reporters. "It's certainly not under a rock anywhere. It's out there every day."

NDP provincial secretary Karla Webber-Gallagher wrote in an e-mail that the central party office is planning one fundraiser, a $1,995-a-head "Vision Dinner" at the Royal York Hotel on Nov. 17. She said individual riding associations are holding events, but did not provide a list.

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"Since we widely publicize our party events and fundraisers through social media and other means, as do our individual riding associations for local fundraisers, it is not our practice to publish a full calendar of events on our website," Ms. Webber-Gallagher said.

Lobbyists are also continuing to promote the fundraisers. Chris Benedetti of Sussex Strategy Group, who represents several private electricity companies, circulated information about the "Northern Grit" fundraiser. Mr. Benedetti said he has noticed an uptick in the number of fundraisers.

"It does seem to be that the frequency of events has increased, particularly amongst constituency associations from all three parties. We tend to be receiving invites from the PCs, Liberals, and NDP on a weekly basis," he wrote in an e-mail, explaining he circulates information about upcoming fundraisers as part of his lobbying business to keep clients and contacts in the loop on events that may interest them.

Two other registered lobbyists – Craig Brockwell of Solstice Public Affairs, who lobbies for a mining company and a construction law firm; and Arthur Lofsky, who represents insurance brokers and the real estate industry – were listed on the organizing committee of a Liberal fundraiser in August. Mr. Brockwell is also a regional representative on the Ontario Liberal executive.

Mr. Brockwell said he promotes and attends fundraisers for all three parties as a way to meet business and union leaders who may want to hire his firm.

"This is just one of those roles … that would help promote our business to potential clients," he said in an interview, adding he has never received preferential treatment from politicians for his clients as a result of his efforts: "As far as getting calls returned … [fundraising] has never helped me in my capacity as a lobbyist for any client, for any employer."

Mr. Lofsky did not respond to a request for comment.

Despite this final push, donations appear to be down. As of Wednesday, Elections Ontario's real-time disclosure portal showed the Liberals had raised $4.2-million for 2016. By comparison, the party received $8.9-million last year, $10.2-million in 2014 and $9-million in 2013.

The PCs have raised $4.9-million so far in 2016. While that figure is already higher than the party's take for all of 2015 – $3.1-million – a hard-fought leadership race last year attracted many donations that might otherwise have gone to the party. The PCs collected $8.2-million in 2014 and $8.1-million in 2013.

The NDP raised $1.2-million in 2016, not far off last year's $1.9-million, but a far cry from 2014's $3.3-million and 2013's $3.1-million.

Real-time disclosure, however, shows only donations to the central party office and not contributions to individual constituency associations, which are published in annual financial statements.

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About the Author
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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