Liberal Party President Stephen LeDrew, who recently called the PM's idea to ban corporate donations as "dumb as a bag of hammers," says the party should instead cap corporate donations at $100,000. "I am very much against a ban on corporate or union donations to political parties but I think there should be a limit on anybody's contributions individuals or corporations," said Mr. LeDrew in an interview with The Hill Times. "For a large institution like a bank or insurance company or a manufacturing company if they want to give $100,000, I don't see any reason why they shouldn't." Mr. LeDrew refused to give any particular reason why he came up with the figure of $100,000, but said he thought it's a "reasonable thing to have a restriction on donations to political parties by corporations, unions or individuals and I think it's a reasonable figure for a large institution or an organization to contribute." Moreover, Mr. LeDrew dismissed the opinion of academics, armchair pipe smokers, and political observers who say that "big money buys influence" in Canadian politics. Asked why any individual would give large sums of money to a political party or a candidate for a political office if the donor did not expect a quid pro quo, Mr. LeDrew said: "Those fellows, those academics don't have their feet on the ground. They don't know what they're talking about and that's fair because if we can't put together a cogent argument to sway somebody then we deserve to be in the hands of academics who don't know what they're talking about." Continued Mr. LeDrew: "I think one could always hope for altruistic things. Yesterday, there was an interesting story about patrons of art, you know, where people will give $100,000 or $500,000 because they believe this artist should be able to create things. You know, there are altruistic people who think that certain individuals should be in politics and they will donate money for them. My eyes aren't covered with rose petals. There are people who donate money because it will improve their situation to some degree and in that case, it's up to the recipient to say 'look! This is not the type of politician I want to be' and refuse such donations." Prime Minister Jean ChrÃ©tien (Saint-Maurice, Que.) has publicly expressed his resolve to table legislation this week in the House to ban or radically curb all corporate and union donations to confront the perception that money buys influence in politics. Although, he hasn't released any details on the legislation, Southam News reported that the upcoming and increasingly controversial legislation would ban corporate and union donations, allow "mom and pop" small businesses to donate $1000 and limit individual donations to $10,000. It's also been reported that the Prime Minister will require full disclosure for all donations made for political purposes including money given to contenders of leadership, nomination and riding association elections. The legislation could also include some kind of funding formula for political parties based on the party's performance in the previous election. Heritage Minister Sheila Copps (Hamilton East, Ont.) last week told reporters at the Cabinet retreat in Ottawa that big corporate money does indeed have a strong say in how government conduct its business and cited the example that the reason why it took so long to implement Kyoto Protocol in Canada was due to lobbying by wealthy corporations. But Mr. ChrÃ©tien and other senior ministers quickly distanced themselves from Ms. Copps' comments, saying this was inaccurate and it would be more accurate to say that there's a "perception" that money buys influence. Mr. ChrÃ©tien has said that despite all the opposition to the bill from his own caucus, he intends to plow ahead with it, will turn it into a vote of confidence, and if defeated, will call an election. It has been predicted by some political commentators that if this bill is passed into law, it's likely to cost $30-million a year to taxpayers since, according to Elections Canada, all political parties combined received $31.6-million in individual and corporate donations in 2001. Liberal MP Mac Harb (Ottawa Centre, Ont.), who is expected to run for the presidency of the Liberal Party and is also a known supporter of the Prime Minister's, said in an interview with The Hill Times that he's in favour of a limit of $1,000 rather than $100,000 as suggested by Mr. LeDrew on all political donations from large donors. Mr. Harb said he agrees with Mr. ChrÃ©tien to eliminate even the perception of the notion that big money buys influence in Canadian politics. "It's very timely, very positive and this is what's needed at this point in time," said Mr. Harb. "We have to take this measure to restore public confidence in their political institutions. It's high time to remove any perception of conflict of interest from the public's mind. When government gives out a contract and it happened by coincidence that that corporation had made contributions to one or more political parties, allegations are made that the contribution by a party may have played a role in getting this contract. What we should do is to say that we will not accept any contribution more than $1,000 from any corporation or union." Moreover, Mr. Harb denied allegations by some that Mr. ChrÃ©tien wants to get this piece of legislation passed in Parliament because this is the last year of his political career and wants to "screw" Paul Martin (LaSalle-Ã‰mard, Que.) or as National Post columnist Don Martin put it in one of his columns last week, "that the Prime Minister has reached the point in his political life where cash-for-contracts no longer benefit his reign, but could complicate the next Prime Minister's life." Responded Mr. Harb: "This is absolutely untrue. It's better late than never. Prime Minister has always been interested in reforming electoral system and he has been consulting people about this issue for a long time. Now, it's time for action. It's part of the government agenda to restore integrity to the public office and this is part of the proposal." Akaash Maharaj, national policy chair of the Liberal Party and a member of the powerful 58-member national executive, who is also a candidate for the party's presidency, told The Hill Times that he agrees with the idea of barring corporate and union donations to political parties in principle but that this plan should be implemented in phases not immediately. "It's a worthy objective for the party to strive for," said Mr. Maharaj. "I am especially attracted to the idea requiring a full open and transparent accounting, where and how funds have been raised. I think, however, that to bring about an immediate ban right now would be premature at this time and I don't think it would be feasible. I think capping political donations by corporations should be done in phases." Mr. Maharaj declined to offer any figure for a cap on corporate, union or personal donations, saying that he is in the middle of his research. He said that the caps on donations should be imposed and lowered gradually which should ultimately lead to total elimination of corporate and union donations. Moreover, Mr. Maharaj said the trust of people in politicians is at its lowest ebb in Canadian politics. He said the Liberal Party is in millions of dollars of debt and the officials and politicians of the party have failed to raise adequate funds to pay off all of the debt from its traditional sources i.e., "corporate and union funds." In this context, he said, people might get the impression that Mr. ChrÃ©tien has failed to raise the required funds from its traditional sources so now he has to go to the public purse. "We are living through an age of enormous public cynicism about politics, politicians and especially between the relationship between money and politics. We are saddled with enormous multi-million dollar debt and have not been as successful as we would like at raising funds from our traditional sources. Sixty per cent of the funds we raise come from corporations and unions. For us, at such a juncture to ban donations from such groups in exchange to supplement our income from the public would risk looking as if we are giving up some of which we don't have." Mr. Maharaj also disagreed with the figure put forward by Mr. LeDrew for a cap of $100,000, pointing out that there aren't too many $100,000 contributions to any party, so in fact the amount would mean no cap on donations. "My sense is that there are few entities that contribute more than $100,000, so I am not sure that will be a particularly meaningful cap at this point." Francoise Patry and Patrick Gagnon, the two other candidates for the presidency of the Liberal Party, were not available for interviews last week.