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Flip a Coyne..

You never know what you’re going to get from Andrew Coyne. One day he comes out in favour of such electoral reforms like the ill-fated Mixed Member Proportional election system that failed in Ontario, and the next, he’s again exhorting Prime minister Harper to stay the course and eliminate public campaign financing in federal elections.

If you’re wondering why Andrew wants this, a hint of it is contained in his piece. It seems that Andrew believes “in the principle… that people should contribute to political parties on their own dime, and that parties should have to appeal to willing donors rather than conscript the taxpayer”.

In holding this view, Coyne shares ideological grounds with Harper. I’ll be charitable for a second, and put aside for a minute that Harper’s ploy was rather obvious in that he was attempting to destroy the other opposition parties abilities to function properly in an election with this stunt. In 2004, when then-Prime Minister Chretien was bringing forth his campaign reform legislation, Harper said this during the debate:

“The bill represents a disturbing shift in the sources of political party contributions from voluntary acts of free citizens to mandatory imposition on all taxpayers,” he said during debate in parliament.

Counterpoints to this argument?

“When I hear the Canadian Alliance tell us that it is unfair that taxpayers be asked to finance political parties, I say that taxpayers are being asked to pay for democracy. When taxpayers no longer pay for democracy, democracy will be no more. That is the reality.”

Since that comes from a BQ MP, that might not deter Andrew, since apparently the only thing keeping the Bloc alive in Quebec is this dreaded public campaign financing, according to him. Last I checked though, the Bloc had done quite well preceding the 2004 election finance reform bill, so I find the argument that the Bloc will wither and die off if public campaign financing is eliminated as an unconvincing one.

The other main counterpoint is that most other established and developing democratic countries have some form of public campaign financing, in various shapes and forms. Even that bastion of capitalism, the U.S of A does. And, if Harper and the Conservatives succeeded in destroying public campaign finacing, we’d not exactly be in very good company, as the Vancouver Sun mused:

If Canada were to abolish public funding for parties it would stand alone among the world’s leading democracies. According to the comparative database maintained by agencies concerned with developing democratic institutions, including Elections Canada and the United Nations, only 46 countries do not provide public funding for parties. So if Canada were to abandon the practice, it would leave the community of established and emerging democracies and join one dominated by the likes of Kazakhstan, Palestine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

That’s rather dubious company, if you ask me.. but one that Andrew Coyne and Stephen Harper want us to join. Harper, I can understand wanting this. He has a partisan obsession to destroy the opposition (and in particular the Liberal Party), and cement any electoral advantage he can find. Andrew Coyne however.. the only thing I can think of is that his libertarian philosophy is blinding him on this issue.

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13 comments to Flip a Coyne..

  • Mr. White

    Originally Posted By Christian Conservative“The other main counterpoint is that most other established and developing democratic countries have some form of public campaign financing, in various shapes and forms. Even that bastion of capitalism, the U.S of A does.”

    And if I recall, the left’s darling Obama opted out of the public funding system… so why doesn’t your party follow Obama’s lead and do the same?

    That’s ridiculous. Last time I had checked Obama was an American. Why must you make outrageous statements such as this? Would it kill a conservative to make a reasonable argument. If you re-call McCain and others bitched about Obama receiving private funding. You neo-cons will cry foul no matter what.

  • Loraine Lamontagne

    Actually, I just checked and you are right, Mark Francis. You have to pay federal tax in order to enjoy the benefit of the credit!

  • Loraine Lamontagne

    Re: Mark Francis’s :’if you don’t pay income tax, or don’t pay much, the political donation tax credit doesn’t fully kick in. So if you’re a student making $10,000/year, and donate $100, you’ll get no rebate.’

    I would check that if I were you.

    From Elections Canada:
    for contributions up to $400, a credit of 75 percent (for example, a $300 credit for a contribution of $400)
    ….

    UNLIKE MOST DEDUCTIONS, THE CREDITS ARE DEDUCTED DIRECTLY FROM THE INCOME TAX TO BE PAID.”

    I capitalized the text. My understanding is that even if you owe no tax, or if you have a refund owed to you, the amount will be reimbursed to you or added to your refund. This is not treated as an ordinary deduction!

  • slg

    I find it rather silly of Coyne to say why should taxpayers pay to vote – duh. We do anyway via Elections Canada, etc. so what’s another $1.75. Besides, for those who can’t afford to donate, they at least get a chance to support the party of their choice.

    As I understand it, Mcleans and other magazines receive government subsidies, as do CTV, Global, etc. And yet, the right object to subsidizing the CBC.

  • Tach

    It strikes that both the PM and Mr. Coyne are making interesting arguments. The former only refers to subsidies paid directly to parties and the later is more encompassing by arguing that we include any type of public subsidy — direct or tax, etc. However, either way you are looking at only a part of the funding issue. If you argue that there are to be no subsidies or subsidies limited to tax measures, then you reopen the issue as to whether corporate entities — ie private firms, associations, unions, etc — can legitimately continue to be excluded from providing funding to their favourite political party. The funding issue is not a buffet where you pick and choose at will; it must be looked at as a total package. And if either the PM or Mr. Coyne believe that corporate entities will not launch a court challenge if changes are made to say there will be no or only tax subsidies to allow for re-instituting corporate support, their reality is heavily skewed in favour of illusion or delusion!

  • Private-only funding of political parties tends to cause political parties to favour monied interests.

    Furthermore, as Mike above said (and I have been saying since day one), the various other subsidies in the system are not threatened by Harper. Those are:

    1. The political donation tax credit, which hugely benefits the Conservatives

    2. Rebates to riding associations for campaign expenses

    3. Rebates to the central party for campaign expenses

    4. Funding for parties in Parliament with official status; Official Opposition status and government status

    5. The Conservative In-and-Out scandal amounts to even more public funds flowing into the Conservative Party because, having reached the central campaign spending cap (subject to a rebate), they transferred funds to illegally increase riding spending, which is also subject to rebate.

    If anything, Adscam revealed just how bad of an idea it is to privately fund political parties.

    And don’t get me started on the overlap between Conservative spending and the PMO budget.

    Concentrating on the per-vote funding subsidy is a deliberate ploy to damage funding for the Opposition parties, yes, the Conservatives take a large hit, but for every dollar the Cons lose, the opposition parties lose over a combined two dollars, which obviously is a boon to Harper’s party, given how the other parties gang up on him.

    Finally, the US system is interesting. It is based upon a matching system, which means that people of low income are not penalized for donating to a political party. In Canada, low income persons effectively pay more to donate the same amount as a richer person. Why? Well, if you don’t pay income tax, or don’t pay much, the political donation tax credit doesn’t fully kick in. So if you’re a student making $10,000/year, and donate $100, you’ll get no rebate. Someone making $100,000 will get back $75 of the $100 donated.

    Silly system.

    By the way, the average yearly contribution size to the Conservatives is $200. That works out to a rebate of $150, which means that the public pays 75% of that money.

  • Have said it before and will say it again, the funding cut to parties directly affects voters on very low income. It manages to do this by removing the only means the poor have to financially support their party of choice. To me, this is the more crucial point of view to consider. It’s not about the health – or wealth – of parties at all; it’s about being more inclusive of a group of voters who are disenfranchised due to their economic class.

  • @Christian Conservative – That’s the key, Mr CC.. he opted out. The system down there is set up so that you either wholly take public funding to finance your campaign, or fund it totally on private donations. There is no such option up here. If Mr Harper were to propose that, he might have a bit more support from the other opposition parties if he wants to do reforms to the system.

    Also, Obama hasn’t turned around like Harper has immediately after an election campaign and said he would gut the system so that public campaign financing would be removed altogether in the US, in a rather transparent attempt to cement his advantage and cripple the opposition.

    So, nice attempt at a red herring and a straw man CC, but the 2 situations are apples and oranges.

  • Greg

    SD, to be fair to Mr. Coyne, he was a very vocal proponent of MMP in Ontario.

  • I agree with Coyne in principle but see the Conservative implementation as nothing more than a partisan attack and using the law to give themselves favour – a Conservative Nanny State, that is.

    If they were really concerned about this on principle, they would also propose getting rid of the tax credit for political party donations, which subsidizes up to 90% of the Conservative Party donations. They should also get rid of donation limits and regulations against corporate or union donations.

    If they were principled, they would say that anyone can donate any amount to any party they like. Their would be now government regulation nor government funding or subsidy for political donations. they would insist only that all donations be accounted for to the penny and publicly available to anyone who asks for it.

    Free, open, accountable. If they were really about principle, especially libertarian principles, that’s what they would be advocating.

    But they aren’t advocating that are they? Look at what they are advocating – to get rid of only those measure which help their opponents and keep the ones that help them. That isn’t principled in any way – its rank opportunism, wrapped in a vulgar libertarian wrapper.

    These guys happily use the state to further their ends. They are corporatists, not libertarians.

    They no other principle except to gain power and create, as Rick Mercer pointed out, a one party state with the CPC as the party, without any vote of feedback from Canadians.

  • “The other main counterpoint is that most other established and developing democratic countries have some form of public campaign financing, in various shapes and forms. Even that bastion of capitalism, the U.S of A does.”

    And if I recall, the left’s darling Obama opted out of the public funding system… so why doesn’t your party follow Obama’s lead and do the same?

  • While Andrew Coyne favours proportional representation over our current but antiquated First-Past-the-Post voting system, I believe he prefers the Single Transferable vote as proposed in British Columbia over the now defunct Mixed Member Proportional model for Ontario.

    A more useful proposal that people like Coyne could suggest is to lower the subsidy per vote obtained. This way, they could claim that they still support public campaign financing but at a more affordable cost to the taxpayers. I’m not saying that this is right. I do think it would have been more palatible to the voters than a zero subsidy.

  • novagardener

    Scott – I saw Andrew on a roundtable panel on CPAC? several weeks ago. Not sure if it was a rerun. It was hosted by Bernard Lord. Andrew’s last comment was that the govt. should get rid of ALL subsidies. Yet, a week or so ago, I read somewhere that MacLeans receives subsidies. I wonder how he feels about that. Or, is speaking out of both sides of his mouth, as does our current govt.

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