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Ontario Tory leader to keep pressing for public inquiry into Liberal fundraising

TORONTO – The Progressive Conservatives vowed Tuesday to keep pressing for a public inquiry into the fundraising activities of Ontario’s governing Liberals.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has announced a series of changes to the ways Ontario political parties raise money, including a ban on corporate and union donations, new rules for byelections and leadership campaigns, and lower individual contribution limits.

But PC Leader Patrick Brown said the changes don’t address the fact that Liberal cabinet ministers had fundraising quotas of up to $500,000 each, and solicited donations from companies looking to do business with their own ministries.

“We will not back down,” Brown said during question period Tuesday. “We will not be bullied into dropping our request for a public inquiry.”

Brown has been asking daily questions about different donors to the Liberal party. On Tuesday he asked why Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment — one of the wealthiest companies in Canada — got a $500,000 grant from the Ontario government.

“They didn’t announce this grant, they just quietly handed the money over and, surprise, surprise, MLSE turned around and donated nearly $30,000 (to the Liberals) despite never donating to any political party before,” Brown said.

“(It) sure seems like a problem to me.”

Outside the legislature, Brown vowed to raise more examples of questionable fundraising by the Liberals.

“We hope the public pressure will result in the premier doing the right thing to clear the air,” he said. “If she had nothing to hide, she would embrace this.”

In her response to Brown, Wynne said her decision to tighten the rules wasn’t motivated by suggestions of wrongdoing.

“I know he is going to continue to ask for a public inquiry,” said Wynne. “I’ve been very clear that this whole discussion is born of a need to modernize the rules, to update the fundraising rules, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Brown and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath were fuming after Wynne presented them with her proposed changes to fundraising rules during a rare meeting Monday of the three leaders in the premier’s office. The opposition leaders were expecting to be consulted on the reforms, not have them dictated by Wynne, said Horwath.

“The premier insists that there’s a broad public consensus for a plan that she wrote by herself,” she said.

“When it comes to ensuring that people can trust the basic fairness of our democracy, this premier is refusing to establish a fast-moving, non-partisan and transparent panel.”

Wynne said there would be lots of time for people to comment on the changes after the legislation is introduced next month and before it is called for final reading in the fall.

“I’m not willing to delay this process by layering on process and the creation of new committees,” she said.

Wynne met Tuesday with Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner, who told her he wants a permanent, per-vote allowance for political parties to offset the loss of corporate and union donations.

“We want a more democratic public financing system, where your vote directs donations to political parties,” he said. “We think it’s more democratic, and it’s a huge step towards getting big money out of politics.”

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