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Stricter rules needed on caucus funds, Ontario opposition parties agree

PC leader Tim Hudak speaks at Queen's Park in Toronto , Ontario, Tuesday February 18, 2014.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's opposition leaders are now acknowledging more accountability needs to be brought to how parties spend funds they are given by the provincial legislature.

In response to The Globe and Mail's report last week that millions of public dollars have quietly been directed to friends and allies of senior political staff, all three parties at Queen's Park initially hedged on whether new rules are needed.

On Monday, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said he would support such changes. "I do think we should have a greater ability among the parties to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent with greater transparency," he told The Globe's editorial board, adding "all parties should work on that together."

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Also on Monday, a spokesperson for Andrea Horwath said the NDP Leader "thinks there are obvious gaps that have been identified and that those gaps need to be closed."

The Globe's report focused primarily on payments by the Liberals under Dalton McGuinty – including, in one year, to two companies owned by the former premier's campaign director, to a campaign strategist through his then-wife's company, and to the company of a former chief of staff after he was elbowed out of his job. In addition, former senior staff in Mr. McGuinty's office said they were offered salary top-ups through contracts that would not have to be made public.

Sources have indicated all three parties have benefited from the lack of accountability involving caucus funds, which while ostensibly for communication, research and administrative needs, can effectively be spent how they see fit. Last week, the opposition was unusually restrained in criticizing how funds were spent under Mr. McGuinty. Only caucus payments totalling more than $50,000 in one year to any individual or company are listed in Ontario's public accounts, and even then no details are available. They are not subject to freedom-of-information rules or other checks that apply to public expenditures

On Monday, Mr. Hudak expressed skepticism about whether tougher rules would have prevented contracts he called a "symptom" of a Liberal Party "looking out for itself instead of for taxpayers." In particular, he noted that salary top-ups would have violated existing rules.

Nevertheless, his support for more transparency was the strongest personally expressed by any of the three party leaders thus far. A spokesperson for Premier Kathleen Wynne reiterated the Liberals are open to the idea of toughening their proposed accountability legislation. She did not specify whether they want new rules around caucus funds, which that bill does not address.

Follow me on Twitter: @aradwanski

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Political Feature Writer

Adam Radwanski is The Globe and Mail's political feature writer. More

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