The Conservative Party of Canada plans to eliminate the $2 per vote tax subsidy in their coming term, and I welcome that move, not because of the $27-million or so taxpayers would save, but because its the sensible thing to do in a healthy democracy. No longer will regional political parties be collecting subsidies funded by taxpayers who can’t even vote for that party. And single-issue parties will have to look to their base for direct donations towards operating expenses.
Eliminating the $2 per vote subsidy, however, will only reduce the taxpayer subsidy of political parties by about one third. Political parties collect the remaining two-thirds of the subsidy through two streams: election expense rebates and tax credits on political donations.
Sixty per cent of the election expenses of candidates are reimbursed by the federal government after an election, as are 50 per cent of election expenses of political parties. The 2006 election expense rebates to parties amounted to $27.2-million, and the candidate rebates were close to $25 million.
Then there’s the generous tax credit available to taxpayers who make donations directly to their parties—for every $100 donated, supporters were eligible for a $75 tax credit. (Note that a similar size donation to a registered charity would yield a noticeably lower $25 credit.)
So far, I’ve heard nothing from Prime Minister Stephen Harper about whether these streams will be modified in any way. My suggestion, if ever asked, would be to keep the tax credit on donations to parties and the expense reimbursement to candidates. But I’d also make some adjustment to rules.
First, I’d make the tax credit on donations to parties the same as for charitable donations, that is, $25 for a $100 donation. And I’d only reimburse 50 per cent of candidates’ expenses if they received 15 per cent of the vote in their riding (current rules are 60 per cent reimbursement and 10 per cent of the vote), and eliminate totally the rebate for party expenses.
Our government should do nothing that might promote political parties insulating themselves from their supporters. If generous taxpayer subsidies continue, parties won’t need to compete for donations and will not have to adopt multi-issue positions and policies that attract followers in sufficient numbers that parties can finance themselves. Continuing the rebate for candidates’ expenses will help worthy candidates of limited financial means compete more fully in elections.
We risk ending up with a state-funded system in which citizens’ only involvement would be to show up every four years and vote—and only then if they are not too busy. Surely civic responsibility and political involvement should go further than occasional trips to the polls.
For now, though, we’ll have to settle for the elimination of the per-vote subsidy.
I’ve said this before, but believe it’s worth repeating. All federal parties depend on their government subsidies, but should they? Think about it. The parties would only need about a $7.50 donation each year from each of their voters to make up the shortfall if all the party subsidies were stopped. That’s about the same as giving up two or three cups of coffee or tea each year—hardly a burdensome financial commitment.
If a party’s policies, election platform and overall contribution to Canadian society is not worth a donation of $7.50 a year from its supporters, does that party even deserve to exist?