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Wynne opponents call for public inquiry over private fundraisers

Premier Kathleen Wynne said this week that Ontario will tighten rules governing political fundraising.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's opposition parties are ratcheting up the pressure on the governing Liberals over the cash-for-access uproar, calling for a public inquiry and complaining to the Integrity Commissioner over a secret fundraiser last year.

The two-pronged attack came Wednesday as Premier Kathleen Wynne clamped down even harder on her own party's fundraising, saying ministers will no longer raise money from industries they regulate or give contracts to.

The controversy involves secret small-scale fundraisers – first uncovered by The Globe and Mail last month – in which corporations and lobbyists paid thousands of dollars to meet with Ms. Wynne and her cabinet over cocktails.

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Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown called for Ms. Wynne to set up an inquiry along the lines of Quebec's Charbonneau Commission, which uncovered cases of government contracts awarded in exchange for campaign contributions.

"Despite the Premier's new-found interest in fundraising reform, it does not fix the years of shady quotas and tainted money that has been raised by the Ontario Liberal Party," Mr. Brown said in the daily Question Period. "Just as Quebec did, will the Premier immediately call a commission of inquiry?"

NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh, meanwhile, asked Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake to rule on whether granting access to ministers in exchange for contributions violates the Members' Integrity Act, which forbids MPPs from accepting "a fee, gift or personal benefit" connected to their office. "The Liberals have created a system where ministers have to use their cabinet portfolio to raise money," he said.

Both Mr. Brown and Mr. Singh cited a December fundraiser at which executives with some of the banks that profited from the initial public offering of Hydro One paid $7,500 a person to spend an evening with Finance Minister Charles Sousa and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli, the cabinet ministers who oversaw the sale. The same syndicate of banks was chosen Tuesday to sell a second tranche of Hydro One shares.

Deputy Premier Deb Matthews dismissed the need for an inquiry. She argued the government's process for handing out contracts is arm's length from the politicians and that there is "absolutely no evidence" anything nefarious had happened.

"[The opposition parties] are making a very simple co-relation argument that is wrong. It is false. It doesn't hold water," she told reporters. "We have a very clear procurement process which, if people actually took the time to understand that process and report on that process, they would see that there is no political interference in the awarding of contracts."

Cathryn Motherwell, director of the Office of the Integrity Commissioner, confirmed Mr. Wake had received Mr. Singh's complaint and is currently reviewing it.

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Mr. Chiarelli and Mr. Sousa said there was no connection between the December fundraiser and the choice of banks to sell Hydro One stock. They said the decision was left entirely to an advisory panel. "We followed religiously the opinion of the experts," Mr. Chiarelli said at an announcement of the second share sale Wednesday. "We did not get involved as Ministers," Mr. Sousa added.

Mr. Sousa said the government accepted the banks' offer to sell the second tranche because the deal was too good to turn down: It includes 2 per cent in fees to the banks, compared with the 4 per cent to 7 per cent that is standard in other transactions, he said.

The panel was led by Ed Clark, the former TD CEO serving as Ms. Wynne's adviser on government assets. It also included former provincial cabinet ministers Janet Ecker and Frances Lankin, Hydro One chair David Denison and Cineplex CEO Ellis Jacob. Earlier this week, Mr. Clark told The Globe there was no quid pro quo between the Hydro One sale and the fundraiser: "Absolutely not. Without question. And I can swear on whatever Bible you want me to swear on, or a Koran, or anything," he said.

Ms. Wynne, for her part, said she had tightened rules even further on campaign finance, directing cabinet not to solicit funds from people who do business with their ministries.

"The private fundraiser with a small group of stakeholders, and particularly ministers fundraising with their own stakeholders from their own ministries, that's not going to happen any more," she told reporters.

Since the revelations, Ms. Wynne has made almost daily announcements of campaign finance reforms, promising to ban corporate and union donations this spring and ordering ministers to either cancel private fundraisers or make them ‎public by publishing details on the party's website.

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The Premier said Wednesday she had cancelled a private fundraiser that night, but would not provide details about its location or ticket price. Ms. Wynne also scheduled a meeting for Monday at 3 p.m. with Mr. Brown and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath to discuss what new campaign finance legislation should look like.

Ms. Wynne insisted campaign contributions have never influenced her decision-making.

"The policies that we have developed as a government have not been dependent on who gives us money," she said.

Tensions in the legislature boiled over as the opposition parties tag-teamed the government on the imbroglio.

At one point, PC MPP Todd Smith referred to the banks' donations to the Liberals as a "kickback," and Speaker Dave Levac ordered him to withdraw the comment. Proceedings ground to a halt as MPPs tried to shout each other down across the aisle. "Repeat that outside the House!" the Liberals jeered Mr. Smith, referring to the fact that MPPs are protected from legal consequences over anything they say in the legislature.

"If that is not borderline slanderous, Mr. Speaker, I don't know what is," Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid said. "You have absolutely no grounds to make those kind of allegations. You're making it up as you go along."

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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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