HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's NDP government is redrafting the province's rules for political fundraising to ban corporate and union donations and end the Liberal Opposition's use of a $2.3-million trust fund it used to fund party operations.
The amendments introduced Tuesday to the Members and Public Employees Disclosure Act would go into effect on Jan. 1, creating what Justice Minister Ross Landry described as "a level playing field" for political parties in the province.
Landry said the legislation resembles systems in Manitoba and Ontario, with parties only being allowed to raise money from individual donors.
No person would be allowed to give more than $5,000, he said.
"We are keeping a commitment to improve transparency in the electoral system in Nova Scotia," said the cabinet minister.
Premier Darrell Dexter mused during the election campaign about ending the long-standing practice of accepting money from unions and companies.
However, the Liberals argued Tuesday that the reforms were aimed squarely at its party coffers, particularly an amendment that prevents "the expenditure for political purpose of funds or assets held in trust for a recognized party before July 11, 1991, including income earned on those funds or assets."
The measure would cut off the Liberal party from the hundreds of thousands of dollars it earns from its trust fund.
"It's a political attempt by the NDP to cripple the opposition parties," said Stephen McNeil, the Liberal leader.
In the 1970s, Liberal fundraisers were prosecuted for raising funds illegally and putting them into trust funds.
However, McNeil said there's been a forensic audit of the fund since then and the portion that may have been inappropriately raised has been removed.
"Monies have been distributed back (to donors), back in the 1990s," he said. "The remaining money there had been cleared and was held and being used by the party."
He said the remaining money couldn't be used for advertising or campaigns but could only be used for party operations.
McNeil hit out at the New Democrats for failing to introduce amendments to the legislation that would prohibit third-party political advertising.
During the campaign earlier this year, McNeil criticized the NDP and its "union friends" for advertisements that supported the New Democrats.
"I'm certainly disappointed that we didn't see any changes to third-party advertising, which the chief electoral officer had mentioned. Clearly, she called it a loophole and the NDP continue to leave it there for their own use."
McNeil argued that monies "will continue to flow to the NDP through that back door until that loophole has been closed."
Dexter defended the reforms as producing a fairer system and said the amendments simply take reforms introduced in 2007 somewhat further.
"This isn't us going after anyone," he said.
In 2007, the Tory government restricted the amounts corporations and unions could donate and prohibited the use of the trust funds for political campaigns, but not for party operations.
Karen Casey, leader of the third-place Conservatives, said she was going to consult with party lawyers to see what impact the NDP's amendments would have on its trust fund.