Ontario’s Election Laws are About to Change — Here’s What You Need to Know

On November 15, 2018, the Ontario government tabled Bill 57,[1] the Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, 2018. The legislation, if enacted, would make significant amendments to the Election Finances Act (the “Act”).[2] These changes would come into effect as of January 1, 2019,[3] and would more closely align the rules in Ontario with the federal rules on contribution limits and participation in fundraising events.

This election law update is intended as general guidance only. If you have specific questions or concerns, or want to confirm that your organization’s corporate policies and procedures are in line with the proposed amendments, please contact Awi Sinha, Adam Goldenberg, or Jessica Firestone. We would be pleased to assist you.

What’s New?

  1. Maximum contributions

Contributions may only be made by “persons individually”[4] — that is, by individuals who are residents of Ontario. Bill 57 would increase the donation limit of an eligible contributor from $1,200 to $1,600.[5] This amount would further increase by $25 each year following 2020.

So, come the New Year, eligible contributors will, in general, be permitted to contribute a maximum of $1,600 to each of the following:

  • any one registered party;
  • constituency associations and registered nomination contestants, where the limit is aggregated across all registered constituency associations and nomination contestants of any one registered party;
  • registered candidates of any one registered party during each campaign period;
  • registered candidates not endorsed by a registered party; and
  • any one registered leadership contestant of a registered party, in a calendar year that falls during a leadership contest period or during which the contestant is required to be registered.

Note that the $1,600 contribution limit applies to each individual registered party.[6] So, in 2019, an eligible contributor would be able to donate $1,600 to each political party registered in Ontario.

Contributions made through any trade union, corporation, unincorporated association, or organization will still be prohibited. Note, however, that with the changes proposed in Bill 57, contributors will no longer be required to certify that they are acting lawfully and that their contribution comes only from funds belonging to them, and not from funds given to them for the purpose of making a contribution.[7] This amendment is in line with the federal political contribution rules.

  1. MPPs and political staff at fundraising events

The Act was amended in 2016 to prohibit so-called “cash for access” events. MPPs, leaders of registered parties, candidates, and certain high level staff were banned from attending party fundraisers. Bill 57 would undo these changes.[8]

  1. Eliminating campaign subsidies

Currently, eligible political parties and registered constituency associations receive a financial allowance based on the number of votes they received in the previous provincial general election. Bill 57 would phase out and eliminate this allowance by January 1, 2022.[9]

The bottom line

Taken together, the proposed changes stand to make a significant difference in how political fundraising will be conducted in Ontario, and how individuals and entities may participate in the democratic process. If you, your business, your employees, your officers, or your directors engage in Ontario politics, be sure that you understand how these forthcoming legislative amendments will affect you.

Our team at McCarthy Tétrault LLP can help. Please contact Awi Sinha, Adam Goldenberg, or Jessica Firestone with any questions or for assistance.

 

[1] Bill 57, Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, 2018, 1st Sess., 42nd Parl., 2018 (first reading November 15, 2018) [ “Bill”].

[2] Election Finances Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.7 (the “Act”).

[3] Bill, Sched. 13, s.7(1).

[4] Act, s. 16(1).

[5] Bill, Sched. 13, s. 1(1).

[6] Elections Ontario, Election Finances: CFO Handbook for Political Parties (January 2018) at 29-30.

[7] Bill, Sched. 13, s.2

[8] Bill, Sched. 13, s. 4.

[9] Bill, Sched. 13, s.5, 7(2).

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