Ontario’s political parties are getting more than $12 million this year in taxpayer-funded subsidies, and they are wondering if Premier Doug Ford will soon turn off the tap.
The subsidies began in 2017, after the Wynne government banned political donations from companies and unions and reduced the annual maximum that any one person can contribute to party coffers.
Ford vowed to scrap the allowances earlier this year, when he was seeking the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives.
“When I am elected Premier I will stand up for all Ontario taxpayers and eliminate the per-vote subsidy given to political parties,” Ford wrote on Facebook.
“This will save taxpayers millions of dollars each year,” wrote Ford. “If a party cannot raise its own money to run its campaign, it will no longer be able to rely on the government to get it from the taxpayer.”
Each party gets a quarterly allowance based on the number of votes they received in the last election. If the subsidies continue, next year’s funding would be:
- PC: $5.5 million
- NDP: $4.6 million
- Liberal: $2.6 million
- Green: $630,000
The parties’ fundraising haul dropped steeply once corporate and union contributions were prohibited. Last year, all four main parties collected more from the per-vote subsidy than they did from donations.
The prospect that the subsidy will disappear is sparking some fear among the parties.
“I’m deeply concerned because we don’t want big money to come back into Ontario politics,” said Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner.
“What should be happening is lower donation limits for individuals and keep the public funding in place because that’s the most democratic way of funding political parties,” Schreiner said Tuesday in an interview at Queen’s Park.
“There has to be a way for our democracy to function and for parties to be able to finance their operations and then their campaigns,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told reporters Tuesday. “We don’t want to see it go back to the bad old days when the Liberals were using cash-for-access fundraising opportunities.”
The Liberals appear to be in the worst financial shape of the four main parties. The party is $9 million in debt, interim leader John Fraser said last weekend.
Fraser admits it would be a challenge for the Liberals to recover financially if they lose the $2.6 million in annual public funding they stand to get, but says the party has factored the eventual scrapping of the subsidy into its plans.
“It is a concern,” Fraser said in an interview Tuesday. “I’m not going to say it’s going to make it any easier, but we’ve thought about it.”
Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy, the Ford cabinet minister in charge of finding cost savings, says he is not eyeing the political party subsidy just yet.
“That’s not on the radar screen,” Bethlenfalvy told reporters Tuesday. “We have a $15-billion deficit so we have to focus on the big things. That’s maybe not at the top of the list.”
The latest available figures from Elections Ontario show the parties’ fundraising totals from donations so far this year are:
- PC: $3.3 million
- NDP $1.9 million
- Liberal: $1 million
- Green $423,000