Election changes show Ontario Conservatives are worried

Jerry Dias, National President

The past year has laid bare the inequities in our society.

COVID-19 has shown that workers struggling to get by on minimum wage – from personal support workers, to grocery and warehouse workers – and those in the gig economy are not only essential, but put themselves at risk to keep our communities running during a pandemic.

Working families across our province have been forced to make impossible decisions between staying home when they are sick or going to work and risk spreading a deadly virus to their co-workers.

With an election in Ontario just over a year away, you’d hope that we’d have a chance to make their voices heard and use the lessons of the pandemic to fix the systemic problems it has exposed by electing a government truly committed to doing so.

The ruling Conservatives, however, have introduced a new election financing law that could stifle that debate by amplifying the voice of the rich and quieting that of working people.

The new law would double the personal allowable political contribution from $1,500 to $3,000 – something only rich donors and their beneficiaries will be able to take full advantage of.

Already, Ontario’s Conservative Party not only has the most individual donors – 12,867 in 2019, compared with 7,828 for the NDP and 5,205 for the Liberals – but also the most people who donate the maximum allowed.

It stands to sense and reason, then, that Conservative stand to benefirt most by boosting the maximum donation.

At the same time, the new law would severely limit the voice of working families, who must pool their resources to have a voice approaching that of the Conservative’s wealthy backers.

It would do this by limiting how much so-called third-party groups, such as unions, community groups or non-profits, can spend in the full year before an election, up from the previous six months.

Premier Doug Ford knows exactly what he is doing. This is a clear move against groups such as Working Families, which Unifor is proud to participate in because we believe it is vital that the needs of working people are front and centre during any election.

Coming out of this pandemic, we will need a vigorous debate about the policies to rebuild Ontario and the rest of Canada. Working people, those on the frontlines over the past year and most affected by COVID-19’s devastation, need and deserve to have their voices heard.

This new law, however, is about stopping that debate, and limiting discussion on such issues as paid sick days and the state of long term care.

Democracy is about having these discussions, out in the open and with everyone heard, and then deciding how to move forward. This new law however, stifles that discussion.

Let’s face it, working people aren’t donating $1,500 to political campaigns, let alone $3,000. The numbers bear that out. While fully 6% of Conservative donors hit the max now, only 1.9% of Liberal donors do, and 1.2% for the NDP.

Working people are too stretched just paying the bills to make big donations. They’re too busy worrying whether they’ll bring COVID-19 home to their families. They’re too stressed wondering if they’ll get a vaccine any time soon.

We can’t let ourselves be too distracted by life and death issues to notice this torqueing of the province’s election laws to Conservative advantage.

The new bill goes beyond financing, and into some disturbing territory.

It prohibits citizen-advocacy groups from accepting donations from the same people, from using the same advertising agency for their separate campaigns, and from even talking to each other about the election.

Think about that. this law would not only limit how much those advocating for working families can spend to make their voices heard, it would control who we can talk to, and even what ad firms we can use.

Unions share common goals about making life better for working families. But under this new law, we can’t talk to each other about that.

Sounds like a government that knows its policies should see it turfed from office – and so wants to silence those who would remind voters how badly it has failed them.