Expand working people’s power, not corporate power!

The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) condemns the reforms to Ontario’s elections unveiled by the Ford government last week. The changes in Bill 254, the so-called “Protecting Elections Act”, will only serve to increase the political power of corporations and the wealthiest capitalists in the province. Doug Ford hopes the changes will get his government re-elected to another term in order to continue to put the burden of a deep economic crisis on the backs of Ontario’s working class.

Ford’s changes include doubling annual donation limits, placing further limits on “third party” spending, prolonging per-vote funding to large political parties and increasing the available number of advance polling days. The increase in advance polling days from five to ten will be helpful in the event of a pandemic election, but this is being put forward as cover for the more substantive changes that will allow the Ontario PCs to fill their own party’s coffers with the money of Ontario’s wealthiest capitalists while labour and people’s movements are faced with further limits on their participation in elections.

The Conservatives started railing against “third party spending” in Ontario many years before Doug Ford formed government. Previous Tory leaders blamed the union-backed Working Families Coalition for their defeats. Indeed, the Working Families Coalition was effective in building opposition to key Conservative policies, like “right-to-work” legislation and attacks on the public sector. Far from being threats to democracy, unions are democratic working-class organizations. Third parties are often described as “special interest groups”, however the working-class makes up the vast majority of the population in Ontario and the interests of the organized working-class are the interests of the majority.

Trade unions should have every right to organize, fundraise, spend and donate during an election. Corporations on the other hand are entirely top-down organizations with accountability only to a small number of shareholders solely interested in profit. Corporations are the real threat to democracy.

Sweeping elections changes were introduced by the Wynne government in 2016 after her Liberal Party was caught in a series of “cash for access” scandals, which lifted the veil on wealthy donors paying large sums to lobby Ministers. Wynne’s legislation disallowed both union and corporate donations from going directly to political parties. Part of this legislation involved setting spending limits for third parties which was set at $600,000 for six months prior to a general election. The Conservatives now want to increase the time period to one year prior to elections in order to further curtail any possible opposition by the labour movement. This anti-labour policy was invented by the Liberals and is now being expanded by the PCs.

While pretending to be against “third parties” in general, the Tories are not actually against corporate controlled third-party election campaigns. It was not labour that spent the biggest amounts during the 2018 election but groups like Ontario Proud which spent nearly half a million in money fundraised directly from real estate developers and non-union construction companies. This campaign was pro-Conservative and helped propel Ford into office.

The government’s other reforms open the door to shifting big business funds back into the Conservative Party. Annual donations will be doubled to $3,300 a year per person to a party, candidate or constituency association. When you take into account an individual can potentially make a $3,300 donation to the three different donation categories in a year, the annual donation limit will now stand at almost $10,000 to any particular political party.

In 2016, the criticism was raised that corporate donations could still potentially be made through companies giving funds to individuals to make donations. The Liberal government’s weak solution was to add a declaration to any donation saying the donation was voluntary and made with personal funds. In 2019, the Ford government removed the requirement of this declaration. The Conservatives hold large dinner fundraisers where tickets go for over $1200 each with a large presence from corporations and lobbyists.

Spending limits for election campaigns should be dramatically lowered in order to stop the best-funded parties from buying elections. Instead Ford has focused only on the area of third -party spending through which the working class and its organizations are able to make an impact with their own voice.

The government is also extending the per-vote funding that goes to the large political parties which started with the 2016 reforms. While Ford previously said he would cut the funding, he has decided to increase and extend it with the reasoning that parties need stability to weather the economic crisis. However, the political parties in Queen’s Park did not see a substantial drop in donations last year, and Liberal donations tripled. The Conservatives are set to receive almost $6 million this year under the per-vote funding.

The Communist Party receives no funding at all through the per-vote subsidy, since the Liberals brought in a threshold to ensure smaller parties do not benefit. The people have the right to fund their parties and movements – limiting that right and replacing it with a form of state funding that privileges the largest parties who are largely controlled by corporate interests, are mechanisms for diminishing democracy.

The Ontario Progressive Conservatives portrayal of themselves as defenders of democracy against third parties’ special interests is laughable. The Tories and the Liberals are the two parties of Big Business in the province, with the Tories in particular representing the most reactionary sections of the capitalist class. While Ford continues his right-wing populist messaging and his claims of being “for the people”, he has been exposed again and again.

In 2019, it was revealed that Ford was doing photo-ops through his personal propaganda outlet “Ontario News Now” at at-least five businesses who had owners that had donated funds to the Ontario PCs, including Pelee Winery, Patriot Forge Co and Curtainsider Inc. This year, it was revealed that the government had used Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs) thirty-seven times in the last two years to push through development by overriding local planning and existing zoning rules. Of these thirty-seven, fourteen  orders were for development on sites with environmental concerns and nine of these cases directly benefited developers that donated more than one quarter of a million dollars collectively to the Ontario Conservatives. Three of these same developers had previously donated $150,000 to Ontario Proud in 2018.

Ontario is in serious need of electoral reform, but  not these pro-corporate, anti-democratic reforms on offer from the Ford government. Any expansion of democracy in the province needs to address the serious problem of unequal access to media broadcasting, which amounts very clearly to a form of donation and subsidy to the largest parties from corporate media monopolies. This applies to both the “free-time” party broadcasts and access to the private broadcast consortium’s election debates and discussions. To ensure that free broadcasting is equally provided, and that there are no exclusions, it should be covered by the provincial Election Finances Act.

Furthermore, the Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) continues to fight for:

  • Proportional Representation based on a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system for Ontario;
  • Dramatically lower campaign spending limits for provincial and municipal elections;
  • Right-to-recall legislation and salaries no higher than the average workers’ wage for all elected officials;
  • Lowering the voting to 16 and allowing all inhabitants of Ontario to vote in municipal and provincial election regardless of immigration status.

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