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In defence of Canada's publicly financed election system

As you may have heard, the Conservatives have decided they’re going to campaign next election on getting rid of public financing of our federal elections in Canada. This system was brought in by Prime Minister Chretien, in conjunction with putting severe limits on how much money corporations and unions could donate to a campaign. Canada thus joined many other democratic countries in the world -including the US – that have a form of public financing for elections.

The Conservatives seem to think they can campaign on it being “wasted money” on politicians, but of course, the real reason is they want to cripple their rival parties from receiving funding.

Here is a pretty good defence of public financing and a good critique of the Conservatives motives, from Dale Smith:

The Conservatives, no doubt looking to change the channel yet again from the most recent Afghan detainee revelations, are bringing up the per-vote subsidy that political parties receive. Woo, we’re funding politicians – scary! Except that gee – they were awfully supportive of it when it was supposed to hurt the Liberals from no longer getting corporate donations. Now they want to eliminate the subsidy to hurt all of the opposition parties…

..here’s why it matters, and what the Conservatives will never tell you – by having a per-vote subsidy, it not only restricts corporate and union donations from entering into the political process, but it also makes your votes count that much more. Not only do you participate in the political process, but you make sure that the party of your choice gets the $1.95 per year that your vote entitles them to. It has a dollar value attached to how much it counts. Not that the Conservatives want to talk about that, because they’re only interested in populism, which is not democracy.

I think that last paragraph and its points should be emphasized a lot by opposition party spokespersons when this gets brought up now, and later during an election campaign.

20 comments to In defence of Canada’s publicly financed election system

  • good morning, nice writing.

  • The best thing about the per-vote subsidy, in which every voter has equal weight, is that it makes people think: since the majority of voters in 2008 voted Liberal, NDP or Green — which in a country with a democratic voting system would mean they elected the majority of MPs — why don’t we go a step further and give every vote equal weight in Parliament, where it counts?

  • Naked Ape

    There is a problem when you tackle vast problems with half-vast ideas…

    The per-vote subsidy was a good idea, but the tax credit for political donations should have been eliminated at the same time.

    It irks me that political donations are being made with money that should be going into the tax system.

    I have no wish to ban folks from donating their after tax dollars to whatever crazy thing they wish to, but really, if supporting a political party with your personal finances is important to you, put your money where your mouth is. Don’t try and channel cash that you owe Revenue Canada to political hackerey.

  • TofKW

    At its core I do support the idea of public subsidies for political campaigns, and one look at our neighbour to the south shows why. Public funding and spending limits will help curb the special interests with the biggest bucks from hijacking democracy. I’m fairly certain that was what Jean Chrétien had in mind at the time, and it certainly did no favours to his own party afterwards.

    If the subsidy was to be annulled, this would not be the big hit to the Liberals that Harper would like. In fact Harper should seriously think about this before he campaigns on it, because this is one of those cases where “careful what you wish for, because you just may get it” may ring true.

    The Pundit Guide found that the Grits have closed in on the fundraising gap with the CPofC – here’s the percentage of revenue each party generates from the subsidy:
    CPC 37% – Lib 43% – NDP 55% – Green 62% – Bloc 82%

    Here are the two dangers as I see it for the CPofC. First this will hurt the Liberals (as they intend) but nowhere near as much as they would like. This would hardly ‘finish them off’ as the Reformatory trolls post everywhere, and indeed this move will hurt the CPofC almost as much. That 6% advantage that Harper would get would be more than offset by the NDP getting really getting hit by losing over half their revenues. The Cons need a healthy NDP vote in any election to ensure vote splitting is strong and that their MPs can slip through and narrowly win. Their victory in riding-rich Ontario depends on this dynamic. What do they think will happen to a future NDP campaign when 55% of their campaign spending money is gone? Likewise, the Greens losing 62% of their funding doesn’t help the CPofC much either. This all just helps the Liberals to take over the opposition message in a subsidy-less election campaign.

    Here is the other danger, and this hurts all of us. The Bloc will lose 82% of their funding. That’s huge!

    Now you ask, how is bankrupting the separatist BQ and opening up Quebec to the federalist parties a bad thing?

    Believe me, no one wishes the Pequists gone more than I. But the danger is this; what do you think the reaction from the combined BQ/PQ/sovereignty movement will be? This is that ‘crisis’ moment the separatists are hoping for to revive their moribund movement. The federal government taking away the voice of Quebec – the taxpayers of Quebec losing their tax-subsidised rights of democracy. I see this going really bad, really quick. Referendum talk will be back faster than you can say maîtres chez nous.

    If Harper goes ahead with this, I seriously believe this will play out in ways that he can never imagine – and none of it good for him or his party in the end.

  • Your vote is your voice. Your calls to your MP is your voice. $1.95 is not your voice, don’t be ridiculous. We will get absolutely no traction defending this illegitimate subsidy that only serves political parties. Indeed, we will be seen as elitist. It is bad politics and bad policy.

  • bull caller

    Here here, Chrystal.

    This subsidy ensures all voters have a voice, and not only that the ban on other donations ensures the campaigns are for the most part focussing on issues rather than flashy attack ads, vanity websites, and “war rooms” for spinning.

    Of course if that is all you do (see: conservatives ) then that pesky $1.95 just gets in the way of all that war room stuff now doesn’t it?

  • Canadians find this subsidy repugnant, and rightly so. I think we should get ahead of the Conservatives on this one and include banishing it as part of our next policy platform that we run on. Liberals only look elitist when they defend this (see above). It is a bad subsidy that Canadians have overwhelmingly rejected.

  • What Dale Smith said is precisely what I’ve been saying for ages. The per-vote-subsidy may serve the self-interests, the health and fortunes, of political parties; but its chief importance is its introduction of fairness to voters, ALL voters. Not only should the per-vote-subsidy be preserved, it should be expanded to include independents – i.e., all parties (in that other sense) who run in an election and receive votes. Only in that case is each vote treated equally.

    Of course, that’s not where fairness to voters should end. We need proportional representation too.

  • Geordie Tom

    Don’t quite see your problem. It the Conservatives are going to campaign on this in the next election and its so unpopular, they will lose. If its popular they will win. either way the Great Unwashed will have spoken.

  • Red Forever

    Of course this a diversionary tactic.

    Conservatives have a habit of doing it all the time to divert attention away from themselves, and their record.

    The media laps it up, and always reports it from the Conservative viewpoint.

    Those nasty Liberals are just trying to protect their entitlements.

    It really makes you despair,as a Canadian to see how poisoned the well has become under this government.

  • slg

    Looks like “former liberal” has been caught being himself, whatever that is?

    Talk about confused.

    Probably never was a former Liberal, but a prog Conservative.

  • Former Liberal

    LMFAO. I am constantly amazed by the intelligence of some/many on the Internet. I am a former Liberal, but not a former liberal; and I continue to be a progressive as well. Oh, and keep attacking me and those like me because heaven knows the Liberals have no need to win back any former Liberals (though that statement will obviously confuse you on many levels).

  • Current Liberal

    According to your name you are a former liberal, your last line says you aren’t. You seem very confused and have flip flopped several times according to your own comment. Come back when you get a clue. You seem to me to be just another “concern troll”. Not too mention your belief the liberal party is out to destroy its voting base. That makes sense now doesn’t it? Yeesh.

  • Former Liberal

    There was a time I defended Chretien’s move. I supported the ban on corporate and union donations, more enthusiastically than Chretien. I also supported the public financing that he brought in; however, I am no longer in favour of that. Since that has happened I have noticed a dramatic drop in concern over the grassroots of the Party. Perhaps that is a coincidence, but I think not. I would support eliminating this financing and I hope it would force the Liberal Party to actually empower and speak on behalf of its base. There is a Liberal base in Canada, despite the Party’s efforts to erode it, and this base has been ignored for too long. Certainly there was room for improvement under Chretien as well. But I would never have imagined that the Liberal Party thought it could anoint its leader without any input from the membership. That’s how far the Party has swung to being unconcerned with its base. Chretien use to poll as high as just over 50% and the Liberal base was considered to be a minimum of 1 in 3 Canadians. Now 1 in 3 Canadians is considered a polling high for Ignatieff.

    Scrap the public financing and once and for all force the Liberal Party to represent its base. That’s this progressive liberals thoughts on the topic.

    • Marie

      Former liberal, you won’t support $1.95 per vote but you supports millions of tax dollars for free campaigning by Harper the dictator and his cabinets of crimials as well as millions of advertisement for signs built in the US and TV ads of this crappy Gov. promoting themselves on your tax dollars at work. And millions every year of using your tax dollars on propagand dirty ads on 10 percenters.

      You said; Canadians find this subsidy repugnant, and rightly so.

      Speak for yourself Former because you know what? Most of us are using a little common sense and not falling for the lies. BTW, and being a former Liberal is included in the BS from you too.As a Canadian I find the above Tax dollars being stolen and wasted more of a crime than Al Capone ever did.

  • slg

    Too funny, those that say they don’t want to have to pay to vote. Huh? You have Elections Canada, staff, ballots and all the other things that make an election possible – and that costs money. So, no matter what, you pay to vote anyway.

    I would think people would have more to be concerned about than $1.95. If they don’t they must have a pretty cushy and wonderful life.

  • michael st.paul's

    “.Not only do you participate in the political process, but you make sure that the party of your choice gets the $1.95 per year that your vote entitles them to…”

    I would prefer that tax filers be required on their annual return to tick off a box – indicating who gets their $1.95. That way fresh preference numbers are generated once a year – not once per election.

    If I had voted Liberal in 2008 I might be regretting it by now – or not.

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