Monday, April 4, 2016
GTA Developer donations influence local election outcomes, study finds
The report called If It’s Broke, Fix It: a Report on the Money in Municipal Campaign Finances of 2014 prepared by a grassroots group, Campaign Fairness Ontario found that candidates who took contributions from developers were twice as likely to be elected as those who did not report such contributions.
The group says it is concerned about the “troubling relationship between corporate funding and election outcomes in Ontario” and is calling for the province to allow municipalities to “ban corporate and union contributions to municipal election campaigns” — similar to what Toronto opted for in 2009, prior to the 2010 municipal election.
“Development funding is still the largest component of corporate funding, and that is worrisome,” said York University political science professor Robert MacDermid, who analyzed the financial statements of nearly 300 candidates who ran in 13 municipalities including Newmarket, Barrie, Aurora and Orillia in 2014. “And most of it comes from outside the municipality,” he said.
“This money is flowing into local elections from outside, and it represents interests outside . . . and to some degree potentially distorts what representative politics should be about,” he said.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has confirmed it will make an announcement on Monday about changes to the Municipal Elections Act, which would “give municipalities more local choice in future municipal elections,” according Mark Cripps, a spokesman with Minister Ted McMeekin’s office.
“Our goal is to develop policy proposals to make the Municipal Elections Act as effective as possible,” said Cripps. “We recognize that any proposed changes to the Municipal Elections Act will need to be in place well in advance of the next municipal elections in 2018, to allow municipalities sufficient time to prepare for any changes that come out of the review.”
Monday’s announcement is also expected to include legislation allowing municipalities to use ranked ballots in the 2018 election, a move Toronto council once endorsed before voting to reverse its position in 2015.
On Friday, Premier Kathleen Wynne said the civic changes are “further evidence that this is something that we have been looking at for some time.”
“This is not a new issue for us. We didn’t just discover this issue three weeks ago. This is an issue that we have been on — we’re working on it — which is why we’ll be ready in the fall to bring forward a plan,” she said, referring to provincial changes sparked in part by recent Star stories.
The announcement is a long time coming, said Ajax Mayor Steve Parish, who said he has been pushing for reform at the municipal level for decades.
“I have been talking about the improper influence of certain funds going into the system, and how it improperly affects, often in a negative way, how municipalities are developed,” he said, adding Ajax passed a resolution asking to the province to be allowed to ban corporate donations in 2009, but had not heard anything since.
Claire Malcolmson, who works with Campaign Fairness Ontario, said the campaign was started by people working to protect the Lake Simcoe watershed, but found their efforts were limited by who was at the council table. “We realized it was important to get councils in place who prioritize the protection of the environment and the interests of their citizens at least as much as they prioritize the development industry interests,” she said.
Among other findings in the report:
Money from the development industry makes up more than half (54 per cent) of all donations received from corporations.
Development industry funding is far greater where the value of the building permits is the highest and where more developers have projects in the approval process that are dependent on council decisions.
Almost 60 per cent of corporate donations to candidates came from outside the municipality where the candidate was running — and 73 per cent of developer donations came from outside the municipality.
Citizen engagement in municipal politics is low. Just one person in 650 in the 13 municipalities MacDermid studied contributed more than $100.
Nearly half of the candidates self-financed their campaigns.
MacDermid says the influence of the development industry on elections is not remote, and directly affects the quality of life of residents.
“Just look at the GTA,” he said. “There is urban sprawl everywhere. That was developer choices and politician’s choices.
“The evidence is everywhere for us to see about what was the impact of this relationship. We are all paying the cost of this relationship.”