Ontario’s political parties raid the treasury for attack ads

Author: Jay Goldberg 2021/07/12

There’s a giant sucking sound at Queen’s Park.

The noise is coming from Ontario’s four major political parties.

They’re taking money from hard-working taxpayers to fill their war chests in the lead-up to next year’s provincial election.

But Ontario’s politicians aren’t just slipping out the usual amount of cash from our wallets. This time around, they’re reaching much deeper.

The parties are taking a $10 million advance to pay for their campaign expenses.

That’s right: political parties are taking even more of your money to buy the endless attack ads that make voters want to throw their televisions out the family room window.

In Ontario, political parties take millions of dollars from taxpayers through a system called the per-vote subsidy. It gives each party $0.636 four times a year for each vote it receives. Last year, it paid the Progressive Conservatives $5.1 million, the NDP $4.2 million, the Liberals $2.4 million, and the Greens $500,000.

This money is not for the non-partisan functions of Elections Ontario. It doesn’t pay for scrutineer badges and get-out-the-vote announcements. This money goes to partisan political parties so they can spend it on junk mail and lawn signs.

When he was running for office three years ago, Ontario Premier Doug Ford promised to scrap the subsidy.

“I do not believe the government should be taking money from hardworking taxpayers and giving it to political parties,” said Ford in 2018.

He’s been premier for three years and he still hasn’t scrapped the politician welfare system that he once heckled.

It gets worse.

In February, Ford’s Attorney General, Doug Downey, announced that the Ford government would expand Ontario’s political welfare regime instead of dismantling it.

This is the very same legislation the Ford government had to pass a second time, using the notwithstanding clause, because an Ontario judge found the Ford government’s limits on third-party campaign spending to be unconstitutional.

While the opposition parties voted against the Protecting Ontario Elections Act, none of them voiced concerns about the Ford government’s decision to increase per-vote subsidy payments.

Their silence is far from surprising, given that all four parties currently sitting in the legislature stand to benefit to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. 

The law states that Ontario’s political parties will get nine months’ worth of payments early, so that the money can be spent on flyers, attack ads, and bus tours during next year’s election campaign. 

While the opposition parties strongly protested the legislation’s limits on third-party spending, we only heard crickets when the political welfare part came up.

It was a hushed crowd in the stands.

The dollar value of this advance is staggering.

The Progressive Conservatives will receive a pre-election advance of over $4.4 million, while the New Democrats, Liberals, and Greens will get $3.6 million, $2.1 million, and $500,000, respectively.

All of this is taxpayers’ money.

By adding the advance payments to the political welfare Ontario’s political parties have received since the last election, taxpayers are on the hook for more than $60 million.

That $60 million could pay for over 12,500 shelter beds in the city of Toronto for an entire year.

How many taxpayers could go to their employers and ask for their next nine months of wages in advance to finance an expensive summer holiday?

The answer, of course, is none.

This latest fiscal slight of hand shows just how broken Ontario’s political financing system is.

Ontario’s political parties are teaming up to reach their hands further into the public purse, all at the taxpayer’s expense.

It’s time to end the party with taxpayers’ money.

The Ford government must keep its promise to cancel these pre-election advances and scrap the entire political welfare regime.

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