Politics Blog: Conservatives are bringing big money back into politics

Ottawa – November 23, 2021 – Over the past decade, the federal government and most of our provinces have changed political financing laws to remove the influence of large donors and big money in our political system by lowering contribution limits and only allowing individuals to donate.

However, recent moves by Doug Ford's Conservatives in Ontario and Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party (UCP) in Alberta reveal right-wing politicians' desire to allow their wealthy friends to fill party coffers with large donations while simultaneously trying to silence groups that oppose them.

The UCP’s recently introduced Bill 81 attempts to silence third party groups that are critical of the Kenney government by prohibiting them from being able to register as a Political Action Committee (PAC) because they have spent or intend to spend money on campaigns criticizing the government or are affiliated in some way with a political party.

If an officer of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) held an executive position with the Alberta NDP (ANDP) they would be prohibited from registering as a PAC and thus not able to run ads. But if you are a big oil PAC that has good things to say about the government there’s no problem with your campaign ads.

After trailing the ANDP in money being raised by individual donations, Bill 81 creates a loophole that allows wealthy donors to donate larger amounts of money that do not fall under the individual donation limits of $4,243 per year.

Donations to candidates seeking nomination to run in the election will no longer be counted towards the yearly donation limit. Nomination candidates can spend up to $12,500 but could collect unlimited donations and this unspent cash could then be funneled to the UCP allowing those who can afford it to make donations well above the legal limit.

The ANDP continually gets the vast amount of their money from small donations (those under $200) while Kenney’s UCP relies on large donations from wealthy donors who would now have a loophole to donate even more money.

The Ford government has pulled similar moves. Ford doubled the amount of money individuals can donate yearly to a political party. Like the UCP, Ford’s Conservative Party relies on maximum donations from the wealthy while the opposition Ontario NDP (ONDP) relies on thousands of smaller donations from individuals. It is not surprising Ford wants to move ahead with building highways which benefit his developer friends who can now donate even more money towards his re-election campaign.

The Ford government is also silencing third party groups by limiting what they can spend on political advertising. New changes would limit what a third-party advertiser could spend by extending the maximum over a year long period instead of the six-month period that had existed prior and with just a slight increase in the amount they can spend.

Other changes on tap would bar civil society organizations from pooling their resources and would only allow individual organizations to max-out contributions, benefitting wealthy organizations that have the resources to spend the limit. Third-party advertisers with shared perspectives would not be allowed to use a communications firm that is already working for another advertiser. These changes were challenged in the courts and successfully overturned only to have Ford invoke the notwithstanding clause to force them through.

Whether it is in Ontario or Alberta, conservative governments have created ways to silence their critics while allowing their wealthy friends to contribute more for greater access to government.