Corporate Campaign Contributions and geese

Corporate Campaign Contributions and geese
Posted on May 11, 2016 | Alex Cullen | Written on May 11, 2016
Letter type:

Author's Note:

Author's Note:

I am a former Ottawa City Councillor and author of 3 reports on Ottawa's municipal election finances, covering the 2003, 2006 and 2010 municipal elections. Currently Bill 181 (the Municipal; Elections Modernization Act) is before the Ontario Legislature. It proposes to allow municipalities the option of banning corporate and union municipal campaign contributions. In my view they should be banned completely.

There has been a lot of media attention recently regarding political fundraising from corporations at Queen's Park. It appears that the Wynne Government has lately come to the conclusion that it is inappropriate for cabinet ministers to be soliciting contributions from companies that they regulate. Something about possible conflict of interest, about the perception of buying (and selling) influence, about the unseemliness of fundraising quotas by ministers, about lobbyists writing cheques for party fundraisers.

As a result Premier Kathleen Wynne has announced that there will be political fundraising reforms coming to Ontario, that political contributions by corporations and unions will become a thing of the past, as it is today in federal politics. In this way Ontario will join Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta in relying on the support of ordinary voters for campaign contributions. The influence of big money will be reduced. It is seen as a positive step in democratic politics, although somewhat late in coming. Still, better late than never, for most people. Bernie Sanders would be pleased.

Yet, while we wait for this reform to take shape, there is a bill going through the Ontario Legislature, with the promising name of The Muniucipal Elections Modernization Act (Bill 181). Among other things, it proposes to allow municipal councils to decide if they should do the same thing that Premier Wynne says Ontario must do, that is, ban corporate and union campaign contributions at the municipal level.

What, you say? How come the Ontario Government will ban these contributions because they undermine the integrity of government at the provincial level, but it can go on at the municipal level? Aren't the issues the same?

Well, yes they are the same. First, permitting corporate and union political contributions creates an elite who can give twice, unlike the most of us. That is because they can donate as individuals, like you and me, and then donate again because they control the resources of the corporation (or union) they control. Not very democratic - one person, one vote, I mean - is it?

And second, it turns out that while most corporations (like Loblaws, Tim Horton's) don't contribute at the municipal level, the ones that do are the ones who do business with City Hall - land developers, construction companies, waste management firms, etc. They are clearly interested in who gets elected to City Council and will spend thousands of dollars to help them. Very much like the influence-buying conflict-of-interest situation at Queen's Park that Premier Wynne is fixing.

And these corporations are successful at it, too. In the 2010 Ottawa municipal election, for example, 19 out of 110 candidates for City Council seats got 75% of the corporate contributions (over $160,000). These candidates were able to spend the most money in their elections as a result, and all 19 got elected. In fact, to add insult to injury, a number of these corporations used subsidiaries to funnel campaign dollars to their favourite candidates. Not exactly a level playing field.

But Premier Wynne gets it that relying on these corporate contributions when making decisions affecting these companies' interests is not a good thing, integrity-wise. At least she gets it for the Government of Ontario.

She ought to fix this for municipal councils, too. Right now the Municipal Elections Modernization Act (Bill 181) is at the Legislature's Standing Committee on Finance & Economic Affairs for hearings. This is the time to remove vested interests from our local elections and return it to the voter, where it belongs, by banning these corporate and union campaign contributions.

If eliminating corporatre and union political contributions is good for the goose at Queen's Park, then it is good for the gander at City Hall.

About The Author

AlexCullen's picture

Former OBE Trustee (1982-88), Ottawa City Councillor (1991-94), RMOC Councillor (1991-97), MPP Ottawa West (1997-99), Ottawa City Councillor (2000-2010). Economist, former Policy Analyst NHW (1982-91), former... More