O tempora, o mores! (Oh what times! Oh what customs! – Cicero, 63 B.C.
Once upon a time there were no rules when it came to politicians and fundraising. As the saying went, the definition of an honest politician was: “one who stays bought.”
We have higher standards today. Or do we?
There has been much discussion in Ontario recently about how political parties are financed. Canada has tight federal limits on personal contributions, and corporate donations are banned. That is not the case provincially, where the attitude seems to be that whatever your company wants to give is perfectly acceptable. Perhaps in used bills of smaller denominations.
Recently it was discovered that Ontario provincial cabinet ministers were all given fundraising quotas by the premier. Apparently they were expected to raise funds from people who were lobbying their departments. Maybe the directive wasn’t spelled out quite that explicitly, but that was the effect.
Can you spell “conflict of interest?” Evidently the premier can’t. The idea of cabinet ministers raising political financing from people looking to do business with the government doesn’t look good, to say the least. Of course there were never any considerations or favours expected or given at these events. No-one would ever suggest otherwise.
I must admit, my first reaction when this news story broke was not surprise. I had long since come to the conclusion that the provincial government is corrupt. (The alternative is that they are incompetent, but the extreme cynicism of their actions is such that I lean more to corrupt.)
My first thought was: “I wonder if that was part of the discussion when people were asked to be in cabinet?” After all, not only is being a cabinet minister prestigious, but the position comes with a nice salary boost. That could be seen as a quid pro quo arrangement. Which might be acceptable under Ontario’s lax fundraising protocols, but is a violation of the Criminal Code. Somebody could be going to jail here – but I doubt anyone will be charged. Is that extreme cynicism on my part?
After several weeks of bad publicity, the premier has seen the light. Not only will there be changes to political financing laws, but she and her ministers will no longer attend the events where people and corporations pay thousands of dollars fora chance at some face to face conversation. How noble that she made this announcement a few days after her party’s biggest annual fundraising event, which raised in excess of two million dollars (a drop in the bucket in the US, but big money here). There’s a proverb there about horses and stable doors, but I am sure she has never heard it.
The newly righteous premier has now called on her counterparts from the other parties to follow her lead. So nice to see her seizing the moral high ground. I’m sure she didn’t realize that her political opponents have major fundraisers scheduled. She would never want those cancelled.
Mind you, the opposition leaders don’t come across as angels here. Their response is that they shouldn’t be criticized for their pricey events because they aren’t in a position to dole out government largesse. So they don’t need to be held to the same standard.
That of course is bovine end product. (If you didn’t get that, think about it for a second.) The leaders of both opposition parties want to be premier. The people who pay the big bucks for their event are hoping to be remembered when the next change of government happens.
So what is the solution? What is the best way to fund political parties in a morally equitable fashion? Is such a thing possible?
Certainly not if it is done like they do it in Ontario.