Taxpayer-funded quarterly allowances haven’t been awarded since last spring, when Premier Ford gave Ontario’s political parties three payments in advance, allowing them to spend the funds on attack ads during last year’s election campaign. Come June, the political welfare payments are set to resume. Photo credit: The Canadian Press/Chris Young
Ontario’s political party slush fund is set to make its triumphant return next month at taxpayers’ expense, even though Premier Doug Ford promised to kill it.
As Ontario taxpayers share in the tough times of high inflation and soaring living costs, Ford is planning to start doling out a new round of political welfare payments to Ontario’s political parties with no strings attached.
This scheme was first hatched over a decade ago, when former premier Kathleen Wynne decided that Ontario’s political parties should get quarterly payments at taxpayers’ expense.
Since then, Ontario’s political parties have received over $100 million in taxpayer handouts. That same money could have paid the salaries of 100 registered nurses for 10 years.
Parties are given a certain amount of money based on how many votes they received in the most recent election. Ontario’s three largest parties now receive between $700,000 and $1.5 million once every three months.
The payments haven’t been made since last spring, when Ford gave Ontario’s political parties three quarterly payments in advance, allowing them to spend the funds on election attack ads during last year’s election campaign.
But come next month, the political welfare payments are set to resume.
Ontario’s major opposition parties, the Liberals and the NDP, have never spoken out against these payments and continue to support their existence indefinitely.
But the Ford Progressive Conservatives have spoken out against the program in the past: they promised to scrap it five years ago. Instead, it remains alive and well.
Ford himself best articulated why these payments should be cancelled no less than half a decade ago.
“I do not believe the government should be taking money from hard-working taxpayers and giving it to political parties,” said Ford in 2018.
At the time, Ford sensibly argued that Ontarians didn’t want to see their hard-earned tax dollars go into the coffers of parties they don’t support. He rightly suggested that the funds would be better put to use elsewhere.
But once Ford got into government, he flip-flopped. Instead of scrapping the per-vote subsidy, Ford at first decided to slowly wind it down. Once the pandemic hit, however, Ford ramped up the payments instead of eliminating them under the government’s original timetable.
Years later, the payments are still in place.
As of now, the Ford government claims the payments to Ontario’s political parties will cease beginning in 2025. The government’s excuse for extending the per-vote subsidy was the pandemic.
If that truly was the reason behind the extension, surely the payments can end now. The pandemic is very much in the rear-view mirror.
Some, like former NDP leader Andrea Horwath, defended the program by saying “there has to be a way for our democracy to function,” implying that it couldn’t otherwise. Others suggest that Ontario’s political parties could face financial ruin should the program be ended.
But those claims simply don’t hold water.
At the federal level, the same doomsday arguments were made. Yet, the federal government scraped the program a decade ago, and every political party has adjusted and relies entirely on support from donors, not taxpayers. That’s the way it should be.
Ontario’s political parties have also enjoyed fundraising success, even during the pandemic.
In 2021, at the height of the pandemic, Ontario’s political parties collectively raised $16 million, which was a record for a non-election year. This success demonstrates that the pandemic excuse was dubious at best.
Just like at the federal level, Ontario’s political parties are completely capable of raising money of their own.
Ford should listen to the 2018 version of himself, honor his election commitment and end the political welfare program before the next round of cheques go in the mail. He has no legitimate excuse for waiting until 2025.
In fact, all of Ontario’s political parties should come together and support its immediate cancellation.
Taxpayers deserve nothing less.
Jay Goldberg is the Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He previously served as a policy fellow at the Munk School of Public Policy and Global Affairs. Jay holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Toronto.