For The Record – A Heated Exchange In The Ontario Legislature This April 6th Over Political Fundraising

April 6th, 2016 on Niagara At Large

A Foreword Note from NAL publisher Doug Draper

Earlier this April 6th, Niagara At Large posted a media release from the office of Ontario PC Opposition Leader Patrick Brown, highlighting Brown’s call to Premier Kathleen Wynne for a  into her government’s fundraising practices – a matter that has been addressed in numerous stories and scathing editorials in The Toronto Star and Globe and Mail over the past few weeks.

Ontario PC Opposition Leader Patrick Brown in provincial legislature

Ontario PC Opposition Leader Patrick Brown in provincial legislature

The release from Brown’s office contained his questions to the premier and other government ministers, but did not contain their responses. That had one Niagara At Larger reader asking – ‘Okay, so what was the response from the Premier?’

So here, for the record, is the entire exchange from the official hanzard, followed by a Youtube link for those who may want to view the exchange

Mr. Patrick Brown: My question is for the Premier. Despite the Premier’s newfound interest in fundraiser reform, it does not fix the years of shady quotas and tainted money—

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): My standing is a signal that I’m not going to tolerate outbursts.

Please finish.

Mr. Patrick Brown: Despite the Premier’s newfound 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. The people of Ontario need to know if government contracts and grants were traded for donations to the Ontario Liberal Party.

Mr. Speaker, just as Quebec did, will the Premier immediately call a commission of inquiry, yes or no?

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Be seated, please.

Before I go to the Premier, I’m just going to let you know that I reviewed yesterday and we seem to be weaving in and out of questioning one’s motive. I’m going to caution everyone to make sure that those questions are directed in a way that does not impugn motive. Maybe, if I have to, I’ll review what that means, but I’m sure that all members would appreciate either side not to impugn a member because that’s not parliamentary. I’ll just give you that as a caution and I’ll listen very carefully.

Premier?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I would just take the Leader of the Opposition back some years, actually, to 2007. We’ve already undertaken a number of initiatives to make elections more accountable and transparent. In 2007, we introduced third-party advertising rules for the first time, we introduced real-time disclosure for political donations; other provinces are catching up with that.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne

I announced last June that we were committed to making further changes, which we’re doing. I announced yesterday that our government plans on introducing legislation on political donations this spring, including a transition away from union and corporate donations. I look forward to the meeting with the opposition leaders on Monday.

I’m leading by example. I’ve decided to immediately cancel private—

Interjections.

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I think you might want to hear this.

Interjections.

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: As I said—

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Start the clock. Premier, your time is up.

Supplementary?

Mr. Patrick Brown: Back to the Premier: The question was about a commission of inquiry like Quebec. This is not a laughing matter. We have seen corruption charges laid against a senior Liberal operative. This government has had four active OPP investigations against them. Now it appears to the public that the government has traded favours for fundraising.

Mr. Speaker, if this government has nothing to hide, will the Premier call a commission of inquiry to investigate the connection between donations and the government grants and policy changes? It is the right thing to do, Mr. Speaker, if the government has nothing to hide.

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Order. Be seated, please.

Premier?

(Mr. Patrick Brown)

the government has nothing to hide.

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Order. Be seated, please. Thank you.

Premier?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Just to complete what I was saying, I’ve made a decision to immediately cancel upcoming private fundraisers. In fact, Mr. Speaker, as I told the media this morning, I cancelled one tonight. The money will go back to the people who were going to attend.

Ministers can do small, high-value fundraisers but there will be stipulations on that, Mr. Speaker. First of all, the event will be publicly disclosed before it occurs in a way that the media would consider legitimate.

Secondly, Mr. Speaker, ministers will not be fundraising with stakeholders solely of their own ministry.

We’re making those changes immediately. I look forward to the conversation with the leaders of the opposition parties on Monday as we talk about what the transition should look like.

Mr. Speaker, I would remind the Leader of the Opposition that we have all been functioning under the same rules. We have all been following the same rules, and now we’re going to change those rules.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Final supplementary?

Mr. Patrick Brown: Mr. Speaker, back to the Premier. Political fundraising is legitimate; using government decisions to fundraise isn’t. Cancelling the secret fundraisers is nothing more than a PR stunt. No other party does secret, private fundraisers. This is a PR stunt to divert attention from the perception that the Liberal Party has become synonymous with backroom money and backroom deals.

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Now, this is the point that I was making: that we’re getting dangerously close to impugning motive. However, given the circumstances, I’m going to try to ask all members to stay away from that. If it gets too close, I’m going to pass the question.

Finish, please.

Mr. Patrick Brown: Mr. Speaker, the government can heckle and scream as loud as they want. They may have an aversion to facts, but the reality is the Liberal Party has become synonymous with backroom money and backroom deals.

The people of Ontario want the truth to come out. Mr. Speaker. Will the government do the right thing? Will the Premier, if she has nothing to hide, immediately call a commission of inquiry? It is the right thing to do; please do the right thing.

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Be seated, please.

Hon. Brad Duguid: You’re the dealmaker, Mr. Flip-flop.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): I’m not amused with what I just heard.

Premier?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Deputy Premier.

Hon. Deborah Matthews: Speaker, our government believes that creating a fair and just society is the high responsibility that we have here. Part of that means that the tax code is fair to Ontarians.

Mr. Gilles Bisson: Oh, come on. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Deputy Premier?

Hon. Deborah Matthews: Interestingly, the very first private member’s bill that the Leader of the Opposition tabled when he came to this House was one that gave a tax break to Ontario’s wealthiest citizens by abolishing the tax act, Speaker. That’s the kind of regressive tax policy that Republicans are famous for south of the border.

Speaker, because of the rules we introduced in 2007, we can actually look at the facts to see who donated to the leadership campaign and whether those donations may have had any influence in that very first act in this Legislature. So, just pointing out the facts, the member received—

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Time’s up. New question.

FUNDRAISING

Mr. Patrick Brown: Mr. Speaker, my question is once again to the Premier. The Hydro One sale is a perfect example of why we need a commission of inquiry. When the Liberals decided to sell Hydro One, the syndicate made $29 million. The syndicate then held a reception to give the Liberal Party $165,000 in donations.

Now, with the Liberals’ latest announcement, they are selling 10.9 million more shares to that same syndicate, not the general public. Mr. Speaker, did the syndicate ask for this sweet deal at the last Liberal thank-you dinner?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Deputy Premier.

Hon. Deborah Matthews: Speaker,

[Mr. Patrick Brown]

Mr. Speaker, did the syndicate ask for this sweet deal at the last Liberal thank-you dinner?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Deputy Premier.

Hon. Deborah Matthews: As I was saying, the Leader of the Opposition started his career at Queen’s Park by advocating for a reduction and elimination of estate taxes. Now, Speaker, the member received $10,000 from Michael ?? and Associates. They specialize in estate planning.

Hon. James J. Bradley: Ahhhh.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Deputy House leader.

Hon. Deborah Matthews: He received $25,000 from Canaccord Genuity Group, a wealth management company, and he received $5,000 from SJC Investments, an international investment company. So, Speaker, because of the changes we have made in 2007, this information is available for all to see. But it is passing strange that the very first action that this leader took since he became a member of Legislature was to advocate for tax breaks for the very wealthiest Ontarians.

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Be seated, please.

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Order.

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Patrick Brown: I fail to understand, when we’re talking about Liberal donations, why they’re talking about the Liberal increase to the death taxes. It’s about muddying the waters, diverting the conversation.

I realize the Premier may not want to be on the record on this. It’s easy to pass it off to another minister. It’s a difficult conversation. It looks like a publicly owned asset is being sold for private Liberal donations. One-time Liberal gains equal years of financial pain when we lose the revenues from the Hydro One. Why can’t the syndicate buy their shares like every other person or company in Ontario? It must have been because of those secret, private dinners.

Mr. Speaker, was the $165,000 in donations to the Liberal Party in exchange for access to Hydro One shares? I would appreciate if the Premier would go on the record herself, rather than avoiding the question.

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Be seated, please. Thank you. Start the clock.

Deputy?

Hon. Deborah Matthews: Well, Speaker, what I would appreciate, and what I expect all Ontarians would appreciate, is if the Leader of the Opposition followed the lead of the Premier and cancelled the private fundraising dinners that he has planned.

I can remind you: April 19, you will be at the Albany Club with 10 people—only 10 guests: $10,000 a plate. I would hope that you would cancel that dinner. There’s another one, on May 4, at Barberian’s, a bargain-basement, $5,000-a-plate dinner.

I do not understand how the Leader of the Opposition, with a straight face, can call on this government to make changes when he is not prepared to walk the walk himself. Speaker, I’m calling for the Leader of the Opposition to cancel those dinners.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Final supplementary?

Mr. Patrick Brown: Mr. Speaker, back to the Premier: Unlike the government, we don’t have private fundraisers. I put them out on social media immediately after.

Is their definition of private fundraisers—is this where they discuss the terms of the contracts?

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Order, please. I could try to ask the members for their co-operation because I would look at it as possibly a birthday present.

I’m allowing this to–and–fro to happen because I think you need to have an opportunity to get it out, except to say that I really do need to hear what’s going on.

Interjection.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): I’m in the middle of a sentence—in the middle of a sentence.

Finish, please.

Mr. Patrick Brown: This government insists that they make policy free from the influence of Ontario Liberal Party donors. Yet, we see $165,000 dinners secretly raising money for a party from a group getting preferential …

… of the Ontario Liberal Party donors. Yet, we see $165,000 dinners, secretly raising money for a party, from a group getting preferential access to the Hydro One shares. This arrangement is the very thing that people of Ontario have come to despise about this government.

Only a public inquiry will clear the air. But, until the Premier agrees to that, the people deserve an answer to the following: How much money will the syndicate be pressured to donate after this next payday, and what will be given in exchange?

Once again we would like the Premier on the record—rather than passing the buck. Do the right thing: Answer the question on the public inquiry.

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Be seated, please. Thank you.

Deputy Premier?

Hon. Deborah Matthews: Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure.

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Excuse me. I’m not impressed.

Hon. Brad Duguid: The innuendo of the Leader of the Opposition is totally unfounded.

The broadening of the ownership of Hydro One has been complex and multistage. It has been essential for the government to have financial and legal advisers working on this project to ensure the interests of Ontarians are protected. By having the strongest professional expertise, we’re ensuring Ontarians receive maximum value for their investment. The underwriters ??and financial institutions that we used, that we’ve engaged for this ??offer—

Interjection.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member from Nipissing, come to order.

Hon. Brad Duguid: —have been selected in an open and transparent manner to ensure that the process has been done in a very important and very crucial way. We’ve engaged the former Auditor General of Canada, Denis Desautels, to develop a competitive process for selecting the lead financial institutions. It’s absolutely—

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you.

FUNDRAISING

Mr. Jagmeet Singh: My question’s to the Premier.

The Members’ Integrity Act states that “a member of the Assembly shall not accept a fee, gift or personal benefit that is connected directly or indirectly with the performance of his or her duties of office.”

The Legislative Assembly Act states that a member shall not “knowingly accept or receive … any fee, compensation or reward for or in respect of the drafting, advising upon, revising, promoting or opposing any bill….”

The Liberals have created a system where ministers have to use their cabinet portfolio to raise money to meet fundraising quotas set by the Premier and the Liberal Party of Ontario. Has the Premier received legal assurances that the cabinet members’ fundraising quota does not break the Members’ Integrity Act?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Let me once again just say there has been a set of rules in place, and all parties have followed those rules. We’ve followed them to the letter, Mr. Speaker.

But, now we’re going to change the rules. In fact, I’ve been clear that we were going to change those rules. I said last June, that we were on track to change those rules. We’re going to bring in legislation in the spring.

I look forward to the opportunity to speak with the leaders of the opposition parties to get their input. I think it’s an important part of the process to hear from them, because quite frankly, up until a couple of days ago I didn’t hear anything from the leaders of the opposition. I started last June saying we needed to do this. I haven’t heard anything from the leader of the third party or the Leader of the Opposition on the specifics about how they would move to make a changes to the rules.

I look forward to the conversation on Monday.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary.

Mr. Jagmeet Singh: The Ministers of Energy and Finance wrote the legislation to sell off Hydro One. Then, they hired a group of bankers and lawyers to help them actually sell off Hydro One. Then, the ministers hosted a fundraiser with those very same bankers and lawyers. The group of bankers and lawyers benefitted from the sale. The ministers benefitted from the fundraiser.

Can the Premier not understand how this is wrong and may very well violate the Members’ Integrity Act?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Again, I’ll just go over the changes that we are going to be bringing forward and the changes that we’re making right now, because, as I said, we’re going to bring in legislation in the spring. That legislation will include a transition away from corporate and union donations. It’s on that transition that I’m interested in hearing from the leaders of the opposition parties because, as I say, we’ve all been following the same rules. We are all going to be making a transition. We have been following…… parties because, as I say, we have all been following the same rules and we are all going to be making a transition to a new set of rules.

I’m making some immediate changes now. I’ve made the decision to immediately cancel upcoming private fundraisers that I attend. In fact, as I told the media, I cancelled one tonight. The ministers will still be able to do small—

Interjections.

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Ministers will still be able to do small group fundraisers—high-value fundraisers—but there will be two stipulations. One is that it’s publicly disclosed before the event, not after the event as the Leader of the Opposition suggested, and the ministers will not be meeting solely with the stakeholders—

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Final supplementary?

Mr. Jagmeet Singh: I’m concerned that ministers assigned fundraising quotas by the Premier are using their portfolios to raise money for the Liberal Party. As such, I will be making a complaint to the Integrity Commissioner. Will the Premier agree to participate and ensure that her whole cabinet agrees to fully participate in any investigation?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Deputy Premier.

Hon. Deborah Matthews: As the Premier has already said, we’ve taken a number of steps to make elections more accountable and more transparent, and to make donations more transparent. In 2007, we introduced third-party advertising rules for the first time and introduced real-time disclosure for political donations.

The NDP has been critical of our attempts to actually ban corporate and union donations. That’s kind of surprising because that’s exactly the kind of reform that the NDP in Alberta made. They introduced an act to renew democracy in Alberta. She introduced legislation and then it was sent to committee for public consultations.

Here in Ontario, we’re actually consulting before we draft the legislation, before we introduce the legislation, because we think it’s important that we get this right. That’s why the Premier has invited party leaders to come and have the conversation before the legislation is introduced, unlike the NDP in Alberta.

Here is a video of the exchange in the Ontario Legislature https://www.youtube.com/user/OntarioLegislature

NOW IT IS YOUR TURN. Niagara At Large encourages you to share your views on this post. A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who share their first and last name with them.

Visit Niagara At Large at www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news and commentary for and from the greater bi-national Niagara region.

 

 

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