Toronto muses ban on union and corporate contributions
New policy must be passed by Dec. 31 in time for 2010 election
(Column written Nov. 6 for Town Crier.)
After years of debate, delay and foot dragging, the city plans to deal with the hot button issue of banning corporate and union donations in elections.
I would like to say it’s about time, but truthfully the city is dangerously flirting with running out of time.
This is a case of waiting until the eleventh hour to tackle an issue politicians clearly aren’t eager to vote on. Any new election finance reform policy must pass before the end of this year because all candidates can start registering on Jan. 4, 2010.
There’s no reason to defer the issue any longer.
Council already voted to eliminate donations from corporations and unions back in 2004 when it was still the province that had the power to make the change legal.
Back in 2007, the province threw the ball back into the municipal government’s hands by changing the City of Toronto Act to allow the city to make its own reforms. Earlier this year the city asked staff to come back with a policy to eliminate this type of financing and that report was ready in September.
The issue was supposed to make it back to the Executive Committee, but the last meeting for 2009 has come and gone.
Stuart Green in Mayor David Miller’s office told me, “There will be a special meeting” to deal with this.
It will be Nov. 24 at 12:30 pm at city hall in committee room 1. This is just in time to debate it before it goes to a special city council session Dec. 2 starting at 9:30 am in council chambers.
So the city has the power, but does it have the will to ban corporate and union donations?
Part of the reason for stalling was legitimate as the city waited for reforms from the province, which were announced in mid-October and include banning candidates from carrying over any surplus to the next election.
So incumbents won’t be able to build up a war chest for their next run as any surplus will now be turned over to the city.
But the real heart of election finance reform has always centred on whether to make it illegal for corporations and unions to make financial contributions to political campaigns.
Having written about the issue since at least 2004, I am more convinced each time I report on it that banning corporate and union donations is the right thing.
But don’t just take my word for it.
Professor Robert MacDermid, who teaches politics at York University has published a report on this issue in 10 GTA municipalities including Toronto.
Corporate donations to all Toronto politicians including losing candidates made up only 12.1 percent of their campaign funding. This isn’t too bad compared to other cities where it is 76 percent.
But the question is who do we want to bankroll election campaigns?
“Developers should not be allowed to donate to politicians. This is not a (financial) relationship we should have in politics,” MacDermid tells me. “It’s one view of how influence is exercised.”
Politicians vote on policies that impact corporations, developers and unions. But no one has suggested to me that a politician’s vote is bought with an election contribution of $750.
“Candidates should have to depend on citizens (donating) who like what they’ve done or promise they will do,” MacDermid says.
Councillors Cliff Jenkins and Michael Walker have taken the lead since 2003 on pushing for reforms.
“It will dramatically change how councillors are oriented towards citizens and not special interest groups,” Jenkins says Nov. 3.
Currently, a corporate president can donate twice once through their company and again as an individual in their own name. Banning corporate contributions won’t stop developers from donating under individual members, but they can only do it once like the rest of us.
This leads me to my final point.
Getting elected is not cheap.
Councillors fundraise between $20,000 to $60,000 each and it costs between $1-1.5 million to run a serious mayoralty campaign.
So if you support banning corporate and union donations then why not donate a few bucks to your favoured candidate?
The city has a generous rebate program so if you donate $100 for example, 75 percent is rebated back to you so it costs you $25. And you get a tax receipt.
And it can’t hurt to make your voice heard on this issue.
You can make a deputation at Nov. 24 at the special Executive Committee meeting or you can call up any politician and tell them where you stand.