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Ontarians footing the bill for election attack ads

Author: Jay Goldberg 2022/05/27

If you don’t like the idea of burning piles of cash in your living room fireplace, the way political financing works in the province of Ontario will make your blood boil.

With election day a week away, millions of Ontarians are being forced to watch political ads that make them want to stop paying their cable bills. 

But it gets much worse for taxpayers because we’re footing the bill.

Yes, we’re paying for those attack ads.

Every three months in Ontario, millions of taxpayer dollars go from the taxpayer cookie jar to the province’s political parties to spend on whatever they so choose.

Last year, taxpayers were forced to fork over more than $12 million to Ontario’s four largest political parties through what is commonly referred to as the per-vote subsidy.

This money isn’t for living or meal expenses for those who work at Queen’s Park. It isn’t paying for Elections Ontario’s operations or non-partisan get-out-the-vote efforts on election day. This is money politicians can spend on virtually anything, including attack ads during election campaigns.

Premier Doug Ford promised to scrap this politician slush fund four years ago. Instead, he increased the value of the payments being given to Ontario’s political parties and he even arranged for the four major parties to collectively receive $10 million in advance subsidy payments to help cover their election costs.

While the opposition parties howl in protest when Ford so much as breathes, they’ve all come together to quietly support Ford’s decision to keep the taxpayer party finance gravy train going.

Since Ford took office, Ontario’s four major parties have collectively received over $50 million in subsidy payments.

Politicians have long argued that these subsidy payments are needed to keep political parties afloat. NDP leader Andrea Horwath, for example, has claimed “there has to be a way of funding democracy.”

But candidates running in elections already get a significant amount of their election expenses reimbursed. Candidates that receive more than five per cent of the vote receive refunds for 20 per cent of their expenses.

Political parties also fundraise. In 2020, while the pandemic shut down much of the province, Ontario’s major political parties still raised millions. The Progressive Conservatives raised the most, at $3.4 million, followed by the Liberals at $2 million, the NDP at $1.7 million and the Greens at $700,000. 

If politicians could raise millions during a pandemic, they can surely do so at an even faster pace at this point.

Many politicians claim that even with generous election reimbursements and strong fundraising numbers, their parties wouldn’t be able to survive without per-vote subsidy payments.

Attorney General Doug Downey suggested that in the absence of the subsidy, Ontario could face a situation “where parties aren’t part of the discussion because they can’t afford to be there.”

These claims are disingenuous. The Harper government repealed the very same program at the federal level more than a decade ago. Opposition parties warned that they wouldn’t be able to function without the cash. But the parties learned to adapt, relying more on fundraising, and have survived and thrived on their own.

If parties on Parliament Hill could figure out how to manage without political welfare payments, parties at Queen’s Park can too.

It’s time to take away the taxpayer cookie jar. Ontario’s political parties need to go on a diet. No matter which party wins this election, taxpayers should demand that politicians put an end to these wasteful entitlements and focus on serving constituents, not themselves.