As Doug Ford uncorks a $1,000-a-ticket fundraiser at a Niagara winery, the teetotaller premier is facing sour grapes for promoting another winemaker who donated to the Progressive Conservatives.
Next week, Ford will host a reception at Beamsville’s Redstone Winery. That event comes as the premier’s enthusiasm for Pelee Island Winery in a Twitter video sparked a midsummer online storm Monday.
“Love it. Go out and buy a bottle of Pelee Island wine — it’s great, it’s coming to a convenience store close to you,” Ford said Sunday with local Tory MPP Rick Nicholls (Chatham-Kent-Leamington).
The premier, who does not drink alcohol, was referring to the government’s hope to eventually expand wine and beer sales to corner stores beyond existing LCBO outlets, private wine shops, the Beer Store and many supermarkets.
But Ford’s boosterism led his detractors to rev up a boycott campaign against Pelee Island Winery after it emerged company president Walter Schmoranz had recently donated an additional $1,000 to the Tories, exceeding the $1,600 annual contribution limit.
According to Elections Ontario returns, Schmoranz gave the governing party $1,050 on Feb. 26 and then $1,000 on July 12.
The Tories said they have returned the $450 overcontribution to the winemaker and emphasized the premier was unaware of his donation.
On Twitter, the winery said Schmoranz met with Ford “to discuss the future of the wine and grape industry” in Ontario.
“Our goal (is) to share issues facing all ON wineries/grape growers including a taxation policy that supports the industry by not taxing ON like imports. We apologize that this goal is not being focused on,” the winery tweeted.
But the Twitter damage was done — #BoycottPeleeWinery was the top trending topic in Toronto on Monday afternoon.
Last November, the Tories, who toppled former premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals almost 14 months ago, loosened fundraising laws, including removing a ban on politicians’ attending fundraising events.
Critics have argued that such dinners and receptions are tantamount to “cash for access” so the wealthy can get face time with political leaders.
Ford will deliver a keynote speech at the Redstone Winery on Aug. 8. The PC party is promising contributors that Tory MPPs will also be in attendance at the 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. reception.
Then, on Oct. 3, Ford will host a $600-a-ticket fundraiser in Sudbury.
According to the most recent Elections Ontario data, the Tories have raised more than $4.08 million so far this year from 7,107 donors. That tally does not include donations from people who give less than $100.
In comparison, the Liberals have collected $1.2 million from 3,485 contributors, the New Democrats have brought in $864,372 from 13,694 donors, and the Greens have received $454,583 from 1,972 Ontarians.
That means the Tories have raised $1.56 million more than all the other major parties combined.
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Ford’s party is not letting up, either, even though the next provincial election is not until 2022.
On Aug. 17, Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark will host a $150-a-head “Afternoon in the Islands” lobster and prime rib buffet with open bar at the Glen House Resort in the Thousand Islands.
Then, on Aug. 22, Michael Tibollo, the associate minister of mental health and addictions, will host a $500-a-ticket “Get Some ‘BBQ and A’ Time” barbecue at the Fontana Primavera banquet centre from 7 p.m. until 10 p.m.
In February, the Star revealed the Conservatives had enlisted lobbyists to sell tickets to Ford’s $1,250-a-ticket dinner at the Toronto Congress Centre.
As a result of the controversy caused by the story, the premier banned journalists from being present to cover his speech, which was attended by 3,200 people. Instead, reporters relied upon a livestream feed provided by the party.
Three years ago, the Wynne Liberals were forced to revamp campaign-finance legislation after a 2016 probe by the Star’s Martin Regg Cohn revealed the Grits had fundraising quotas that ministers were expected to meet.
The Liberal government lowered the $9,975 annual cap on contributions to $1,200 and closed loopholes that enabled donors to give much more than that during byelections and party leadership races.
As well, corporate and union donations were outlawed and all MPPs and candidates were prohibited from attending political fundraisers. To offset the restrictions, a per-vote public subsidy is given to each party based on how many ballots were cast.
That means the Tories receive $6.3 million annually while the NDP gets $5.2 million, the Liberals about $3 million, and the Greens around $700,000
The Conservatives kept the subsidies in place as well as the corporate and union ban, but increased the maximum contribution to $1,600 and again allowed politicians to attend fundraising events.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie