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Wynne subsidy plan likely a conflict of interest
Saturday, 28 May 2016 - 2:00pm
There might be an easy way to stop Premier Kathleen Wynne’s new subsidy plan for political parties. All it requires is a single member of Ontario’s legislature to do something simple.
If you’re not familiar with Wynne’s plan, she has tabled legislation (Bill 201) that would, if passed, give political parties $2.26 for each vote they received in the 2014 election. In 2017 alone, these handouts to political parties would cost taxpayers $10.4 million.
While I will make the argument this plan presents a conflict of interest to all MPPs, you might be thinking: “How could it be a conflict of interest if the federal government previously had a similar system?”
It’s important to note the federal government’s former per-vote funding scheme doesn’t appear to have been put through any conflict-of-interest test prior to its passage. Parliament passed the subsidy scheme in 2003, but didn’t formally create the position of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner until 2004.
Previous conversations I had with the federal government failed to produce evidence that the former plan was vetted through a conflict-of-interest lens.
To see how Wynne’s subsidy scheme presents a conflict of interest for MPPs, consider first and foremost that political parties are specifically designed to support the election and re-election of candidates that run under the party’s name. By shovelling millions of tax dollars into the accounts of political parties, MPPs stand to benefit — Wynne’s proposal will help MPPs keep their jobs.
Just as an MPP can’t vote to give $1 million in taxpayers’ money to a business he or she owns, how can MPPs vote to give millions of public dollars to their own parties?
Secondly, note the party that stands to gain the most from the subsidy plan — Wynne’s Liberals — is also the one tabling the legislation. Another conflict.
If passed, Wynne’s annual subsidy scheme will give the Ontario Liberal Party $4.2 million in 2017. By comparison, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party will receive $3.4 million and Ontario’s New Democratic Party will scoop up $2.6 million.
Finally, consider that Wynne’s subsidy scheme completely discriminates against independent candidates — they won’t receive a dime. The government’s legislation only provides “an allowance payable to a registered party.”
It’s rare for an independent candidate to get elected in Ontario, and in Canada for that matter, but should the electoral system be rejigged to make their chances of success even harder? Is that Wynne’s decision to make?
So, how can a single MPP do something simple to potentially stop the bill? It’s simple.
One of Ontario’s MPPs should ask Ontario’s integrity commissioner for a ruling on the bill. The MPP should point out the three causes for concern that I’ve outlined in this column and ask for the commissioner’s opinion prior to Ontario’s legislature voting on the matter.
I tried asking the commissioner’s office for such an opinion, but was told the commissioner can legally only provide such opinions to MPPs.
So there you have it. Will your MPP ask for such a ruling?
— Colin Craig works for the Manning Centre and is the author of The Government Wears Prada
This column was published by the Toronto Sun and Ottawa Sun on May 27, 2016