Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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Let's end corporate donations in our elections

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At our most recent City Council meeting, my colleague Tobi Nussbaum provided notice of a motion he intends to bring to our April 15 meeting to ask for the authority from Queen’s Park to ban corporate and union donations in our municipal election.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I am fully supportive of his efforts.

Corporate and union donations fundamentally skew our elections by providing some stakeholders a second opportunity to influence election outcomes.

Make no mistake. The outcome of our elections is dependent fundamentally on tools and levers that cost money. Advertising, an election office and signs are all expensive, but critical to establishing credibility and awareness in voters’ minds. Our spending caps in Ottawa are appropriately modest, but raising and spending roughly $30,000 is still no mean feat. Fundraising is a distraction from working on the campaign platform, organizing volunteers and, most importantly, getting to the door.

A candidate who is supported by, say, the development industry faces a far easier fundraising task than her or his opponents in a tight race. Every dollar counts. Where corporations and are in a position to make generally much larger contributions to begin with, it's not uncommon that those dollars are topped up by those companies’ principals and senior staff through individual contributions. 

There will always be a grey area in election financing since no one will argue that individuals, regardless of who they work for or what companies they own or are affiliated with, shouldn’t be allowed to donate to a campaign. In my most recent campaign, I pledged to vet individual donations to ensure none from the development community. But that is impossible to codify or police, and I’m not advocating that we try.

But we can and should ban the double-donations that the current rules allow.

This would represent a significant change in our system, and is not to be taken lightly. I applaud Tobi for his approach. He is asking only that we seek the authority to ban corporate and union donations from Queen’s Park. If and when we have those powers, we can then debate seeking a ban. It’s a reasonable approach. I’m looking forward to providing him with my support on April 15.

Posted April 5, 2015