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Councillors shifting on election donations

Mar 01, 2009

The debate on banning corporate and union election donations was brief at last week’s council meeting, but no one spoke against the idea. And at least two councillors who accepted such gifts in the last election expressed support for banning them.

Council directed finance staff to prepare a report in response to a town of Ajax resolution asking the province to allow all Ontario municipalities to ban the donations – a right currently only given to Toronto. The only opposition to asking for the staff report came from Margaret McCarthy who wanted to immediately endorse the Ajax position.

“It has been a fundamental flaw within the municipal act that it has been allowed to date to have corporations that do business within the city, as well as unions that have the ability to influence some, perhaps, in terms of decision-making around the table,” noted the Waterdown councillor. “So I think it’s had a full airing in terms of media, and I’d be happy to endorse and support it here tonight.”

That suggestion, however, was precluded by Sam Merulla’s motion to refer the matter to staff. But Merulla also declared the Ajax resolution “has a great deal of merit and [is] one that I’d actually like to support” and hopes that the ban “should be in place for the next election” in November 2010.

Tom Jackson suggested the staff report also consider provision of tax incentives to individual donors.

“If we’re going to endorse this resolution which would eliminate any corporations and/or unions from donating in the future to municipal elections,” noted Jackson. “I would definitely like to have considered the opportunity to issue tax receipts so that we’d be on an equitable basis with federal and provincial governments at elections who are allowed to issue individual tax receipts to those who donate from an individual standpoint.”

Section 82 of the Municipal Elections Act already allows any municipality to provide donation rebates, a system that has been put in place by both Toronto and Ajax. Both municipalities return 75 percent of the first $300 in donations – but make these payments only to individual donors, not with respect to corporate or union donations.

In the 2006 elections, CATCH and others called on candidates to voluntarily refuse corporate and union donations. Merulla and Jackson were two of the candidates who didn’t embrace this idea – and Jackson took over $34,000 from those sources, as against $9,720 received from individuals.

Mayor Eisenberger and four other current members of council – Bob Bratina, Russ Powers, Brian McHattie and McCarthy – took no contributions from either corporations or unions in the last election. The other eleven shared more than $175,000 in gifts from these sources. For those eleven, corporate and union donations made up 76 percent of their election funding.

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