Sunday, October 31, 2010

Political welfare

Full Comment over at the National Post’s website carried a piece by John Ivison recently, which reminds us that:

“The annual [Elections Canada] returns for 2009 underlined the fund-raising gap between the main [federal] parties. The Conservatives raised $17-million from 101,000 donors; the Liberals raised $9-million from 38,000 donors, while the NDP raised $4-million from 24,000 contributors.”

With Elections Canada expected to release new financial reports for the main federal parties on Monday, Ivison reports that sources in Ottawa say the Liberals raised only $1.5-million in the third quarter of this year virtually the same as the NDP. In the same timeframe, the Tories brought in about $4-million, and, apparently, several of the Tory appeals were made after the failure of their attempt to kill the long-gun registry.

It is quite clear to me who the party of the elite is: it’s the Liberal Party of Canada. For decades, the Grits depended on large contributions from well-to-do individuals and organizations—contributions of the size that used to buy influence in Ottawa. Inexplicably, former PM Jean Chrétien put an end to most of the influence peddling as way of fattening his party’s purse and replaced it with subsidies from taxpayers. PM Stephen Harper further tightened the rules and lowered the annual contribution to $1,100.

Since those changes took effect, Liberal fund-raising has plummeted with some improvement lately, while the Tories—with a larger base of contributors of more modest means but greater commitment to their party—have flourished financially.

In 2009, 101,000 Tory supporters gave a modest $168 average contribution. The Grits received a more generous $237 average donation from only 38,000 supporters. Grits are more affluent, of course, but there are much fewer of them who are financially committed to their party.

I’d like a return to the system whereby political parties are fully supported by their membership—the Conservatives have proven this is a viable thing to do. If a party cannot drum up financial support for its ideas, then those ideas are probably not worth prattling on about to the electorate every four years.

We should drop the $1.95 per vote annual government subsidy each political party gets, and reduce the income tax deduction they benefit from to the same level that charities get.

Perhaps if parties have to be self-supporting, members will demand a better quality of candidate for their money. If someone wants to run for parliament, they’d better have the sort of ideas voters will support with their pocket books.

Government subsidies have allowed the continued existence of two (of only five) national federal parties, the Bloc and the Greens. These would be very different entities if they weren’t on the dole.

Perhaps we could put this to a national vote and see how these political welfare bums make out.


© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.


  1. Excellent post highlighting the fact the majority of small donors are conservatives and the fringe parties are benefiting from the unilateral changes by the Liberals.

    I don't believe they imagined every falling below 30% in popular support.

    Democratic reform includes ending the forgivable loans to leadership contests as well.

    It is time for Elections Canada to step up and also collect the GST overpayment.

  2. This in one of those issues that I have a different mindset on. Is approval of a party based on how much money they can raise? Or based on who they can motivate to vote for them? And which party will provide anything other than lip-service to the poor if their survival depends on courting those who can best contribute rather than those most in need?

    The BQ, of course, is the main sticking point in all of this. To be honest, the Liberals would love to see the Greens go away as they bleed votes from bot the Libs and NDP.

    But I sure don't want to see Canada go the way of the US where fundraising and butt-kissing to raise a war chest becomes a nearly fulltime job for candidates. Frankly, that takes away from their concentrating on what we elected them to do.

    That being said, I am sure that there must be ways to better balance how parties are funded. Not saying that I have the answers, just that I think that democracy is best served when the barriers to involvement are lowered rather than raised, and in a recession especially, adding financial barriers is not the answer.

  3. I'm with Michael on this issue.

    This cost of subsidization is extremely miniscule in relation to say the cost of a fighter jet or a G20 photo op. A small price to pay for democratic fairness.

    I would go one step further and have some degree of proportional representation in place ASAP.

    I also think greater scrutiny needs to be placed on politicking from the pulpit. This hidden yet brazen form of cheating the system borders on sedition.

  4. Michael and Offroad,

    It's not the cost in dollars that I object to, but the cost to our democracy when any group can set up shop as a political party without any apparent grass-root support. There is also the question of basic fairness: Why should taxpayers pay for political parties of which they are not members and in which they have no trust?

    As to proportional representation, voters have rejected the idea in B.C. and Ontario.

    Not to the comment: "I also think greater scrutiny needs to be placed on politicking from the pulpit. This hidden yet brazen form of cheating the system borders on sedition."

    Wow, sedition? Really, Offroad? What about all that "politicking" that goes on in union halls or at teachers' meetings? Do we need "greater scrutiny" there too? Probably impractical to hire that many thought police, don't you think.

  5. Political parties only get the subsidies after they get the votes. So you can't just "set up a party" and start getting subsidized. Since the subsidies are on a per vote basis, they are proportional to the breakdown in society at large - perfectly fair IMO at a cost of cents per person.

    Unions are upfront (in our faces, actually) about being political organizations. As spiritual entities, churches and their members receive tax considerations and other benefits from society. Making sure that churches really are churches, and not fronts for something else on a part-time basis, is only good business.

    Sedition is a tad strong but, this is a secular country. Tolerating efforts by churches to encroach on the political sphere fall under "give them an inch they'll take a mile". Not that all churches would necessarily be conservative, either.

    It's bad enough that the media is already going partisan.