No matter who wins, Ontario's politics needs a cleanout


National Post, 6 June 2018

It is reasonably clear to those who move in provincial political circles that a culture of corruption has taken root; a sleazy streak now runs through it

The provincial election in Ontario on Thursday will bring a new government — Premier Kathleen Wynne has conceded that — but what will follow is unknown, and may be somewhat chaotic. Indeed, the last days are being marked by the leading candidate, Doug Ford, fending off a lawsuit from his late brother’s widow alleging that he cheated her out of her inheritance.

So before the post-election chaos begins, it is important that outstanding business be duly recorded so that it not be permanently overlooked. Specifically, Ontario has a problem with pay-to-play corruption, and the disappearance from the stage of various actors ought not forestall a reckoning on that front.

In 2016, a series of investigative reports revealed that wealthy donors were offered straight up cash-for-access to Wynne, her senior staff and cabinet ministers. It was not clandestine, and hardly even discreet. Organizers made the sale baldly; a few grand to the Liberal party for some conversation at a cocktail party, double that for a more intimate dinner at a swanky hotel. Wynne defended the practice as both legal (which it was) and as “part of the democratic process.” It certainly was part of the Liberal party process, lucrative as it turned out to be after more than a decade in power.

It was never satisfactorily explained what in fact Ontario’s leaders sold. One presumes it was more than disquisitions on the democratic process. We knew only vaguely about the quid, and nothing about the pro quo.

Ontario was well behind the political finance reforms in Ottawa, dating back to Jean Chrétien. So after several months of defiantly excusing the inexcusable, Wynne’s government introduced similar reforms in late 2016, reducing the total amounts a donor might give, eliminating loopholes designed to get around those limits, and banning corporate and union money. It even went so far as to ban MPPs from attending their own fundraisers. The pendulum swings — now it is cash for no access.

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