Big money has too much influence on elections

By MPP Toby Barrett

Serious allegations have been raised of late as to the conduct of the Ontario government, and the perception that it may have turned doing government business in to a money-making machine for political gain.

Two years ago I drafted a proposal to limit corporate and union donations to political parties. In some quarters, I immediately found myself about as popular as a snake at a garden party.

Those in the business felt my dramatic restriction on donations would severely underfund a process that has grown to multi-millions of dollars a year in political lobbying and advertising and influence peddling.

My position is that the collusion of government and big money is skewing policy and political decision-making – essentially subverting our cherished and long tradition of democracy where a person’s vote is meant to count.

In my travels, I observe cynicism and distrust of what is seen as a rigged system bought and paid for by big unions, big corporations and other special interest groups. And I do point out, as far as I’m concerned, this is not the case in our riding of Haldimand-Norfolk.

There is a stigma attached to those in power soliciting and accepting very large donations. In the eyes of many, such a politician is seen as a puppet who is corrupt and not to be trusted. You may outspend your competitors but you remain forever in the pocket of your campaign donors.

Those of us who run locally know it is more than feasible to compete in an election and win an election without spending, and accepting, huge amounts of money – as long as the playing field is level. Case in point: Over my six election campaigns for MPP, my competitors and I would realize our dozens of area all-candidates nights had little relevance for public opinion in the face of a nightly barrage of high-priced television commercials. It’s time to curb third-party special interest advertising.

Big money from companies, unions and individuals can sway elections – both provincially and at the riding level. And big money also buys favoritism and alters decision-making by those in power – particularly those beholden to donors and lobbyists and other special interests.

Many feel the system has become broken and open to corruption at the hands of shadow organizations, power-hungry bagmen and backroom boys. Someone dependent on big money to win and stay in office has no real power – it’s been handed over to their benefactors.

The solution lies in enhancing the power and the financial independence of politicians by taking the big money out of the process, thus curtailing the lobbyist and shrinking the influence of special interests.

As an elected representative, my job is to represent those who elected me, plus everyone else among the 110,000 constituents of the riding of Haldimand-Norfolk. As MPP, I swear allegiance to the Queen. I’m a member of the Ontario PC Party. I have no need for special advisors or a cadre of backroom boys to pay for my elections.

Integrity is the foundation of trust with the people of Ontario, and the people of Ontario have lost trust in this government – a government that is merely talking about changing the rules because it looks like they got caught. A full investigation is required.