Loading articles...

Doug Ford defends $1,250 a plate fundraiser, says it's not cash for access

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto on Monday, January 21, 2019. Major health-care reform, policing changes and an inaugural budget with a deeper look into the government's austerity agenda are on tap at the Ontario legislature as politicians return Tuesday from a winter break. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

A pricey Progressive Conservative fundraising gala where attendees can rub shoulders with key members of government doesn’t constitute cash-for-access, Premier Doug Ford said ahead of the event in Toronto on Wednesday.

The 2019 Leader’s Dinner — where tickets cost $1,250 — is not about granting opportunities for people to influence cabinet ministers, Ford said, after opposition parties raised concerns that the event would do just that.

The premier said his party frequently hosts smaller fundraisers across the province where people have a chance to hear directly from him.

“I’m going up to Muskoka on Friday for a $25 dinner, a spaghetti dinner, to talk to the real people,” Ford said. “I encourage everyone to come out Friday to listen to the great things that this government has done for the common folk.”

Media are not permitted to attend Wednesday’s sold-out gala, where Ford is expected to deliver a keynote address to an audience that will include several members of cabinet. The Progressives Conservatives have billed the event as “the biggest fundraiser Ontario has ever seen” and predicted it will raise more money in a single day than any other party has before.

A spokesman for the Progressive Conservative party said the event will attract people from across the province and denied that the gala offered special treatment for attendees.

“Anyone who claims that selling tickets will somehow translate to more access to government officials is woefully misguided,” Marcus Mattinson said in a statement.

The dinner comes after Ford’s government changed fundraising rules to allow the premier and cabinet ministers to attend such events, something the previous Liberal government banned in 2017.

The Tories announced in November that they were also raising the fundraising limits for individual donors from $1,222 to $1,600 and phasing out taxpayer-funded subsidies provided to political parties.

The Liberals had altered party fundraising rules to ban corporate and union donations and bar legislators from attending fundraisers.

According to the latest figures available from Elections Ontario, the Tories are far ahead of their opposition rivals when it comes to fundraising this year. In the first two months of 2019, Ford’s party has raised just over $604,000. The New Democrats raised over $30,000, the Ontario Liberal Party raised $20,000, and the Green Party raised over $13,000.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said events like Wednesday’s gala are what made people angry about the fundraising system before the Liberals changed the rules in 2017.

“It says to the rest of Ontario, ‘we’re not going to pay attention to you, we’re not going to listen to you, we don’t care about you unless you can give us money to help our political party,” she said.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the gala is a return to cash-for-access events and added that it was wrong for the current government to change fundraising rules.

“When big money gets a hold on Ontario politics it’s bad for democracy and it (doesn’t) make people feel like government is there for everyone,” he said.

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said the public must have confidence that the people who purchase tickets to the gala do not have undue influence on the government.

“They’re a new government and $1,250 a ticket is a lot of money, it’s too rich,” he said. “Maybe for going to fundraisers it should be a different limit. I think people have a genuine concern that certain people get … access.”