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What type of election finance system can benefit the political system overall?

That’s how I look at it when I look at how election campaigns should be financed. I don’t look at it through the prism of whether it will benefit the party I happen to support, or more specifically, who it could hurt. That’s how Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are viewing it when they vow to remove the public financing system (better known as the election subsidy), and that’s how I feel my Liberal blogging colleague Jeff is presenting his arguments for the Liberals turning around their current stance and supporting an end to it as well (with the condition that the contribution limit be raised a few thousand bucks). I obviously respectfully disagree with his position, if you haven’t guessed.

As an aside, there are many countries out there that have public election financing – the United States included. It is an honourable effort to try and get parties or Presidential candidates weaned off of being “owned” by corporate or union money. That’s why Chretien invoked a public financing system when he reduced the contribution limits down to what he did – to make up for that loss of revenue to political parties, and an effort to make the system fair for all parties, both current and upcoming – provided they had the minimum votes in the country to warrant getting financed.

The Liberals should not be trying to join the Conservatives in “reforming” the finance system based on narrow partisan considerations.

11 comments to What type of election finance system can benefit the political system overall?

  • DL

    What exactly is wrong with the status quo in terms of campaign financing in Canada?? I think the only thing I would change, is that I would bring in strict limits on what parties are allowed to spend on advertising during non-writ periods.

    • @DL,

      As I see it, the problem with the current system is the ability of the wealthy to donate up to $1,000 to a political party. Most Canadians simply don’t have that kind of money laying around. This means that the average Canadian has only a very limited ability to contribute financially to a party while the rich can donate substantially more. The risk is that political parties, which rely on donations to keep themselves afloat, will end catering to the needs and interests of the rich while ignoring the issues of the poor.

      In contrast, a 100% publicly financed campaign system levels the playing field between rich and poor. No matter who you are and no matter how much you earn, each person has an equal capacity to contribute financially to the party or candidate of her choice.

  • I wholeheartedly agree with you on this issue, Scott. In fact, I would support a system based on 100% public financing. It makes sense to me that each person (not corporations, unions, or other entities) should have an equal ability to contribute financially to the party or candidate of her choice. Just as each person is entitled to one vote regardless of ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, etc., so too should each person have an equal capacity to financially support a candidate.

    A public financing system based on previous election results levels the playing field between rich and poor, while also promoting freedom of choice by allowing each person, through her vote, to direct her financial support to the candidate of her choosing. In my view, anything less than 100% public financing effectively disenfranchises the poor.

  • TofKW

    Actually the trick would be to somehow allow Harper to cut the subsidy without the Liberals taking any blame. Maybe by having it introduced as a private member’s bill and the Grits not wipping it?

    The uproar in Quebec would jump start that crisis the Bloquists are waiting for. It would be fun to watch Harper navigate through a real honest to goodness national unity crisis of his own making.

  • KC

    I agree Scott. Political strategy–i.e. destroying the Bloc–should play no role in deciding whether or not to support the abolition of the public subsidy regime. What Jeff is doing is proposing a completely defensible change for (at least in part) the wrong reasons.

  • I wasn’t aware American Political parties received public funding

    There is a public funding option in the U.S. — at least for some purposes including the presidential campaign — but the candidates can opt out of it if they believe they can raise more through private donations. And they usually do.

    • @pogge, Obama opted out. Mccain opted in to stay with public financing.

      There is no such public financing scheme for US Congressional elections that I’m aware of.. it only exists for the Presidential campaign.

  • ck

    I wasn’t aware American Political parties received public funding…If that’s true, why is it that most of U.S. congress is owned by oil, Wall Street and of course, the health insurance indurstry? But then, from what I hear, there are no more set limits to what corporations would be allowed to donate to any party?

    It’s why I say that it’s vital we keep the subsidy and yes, no corporate donations!

  • Scott, we can disagree on whether public subsidies are appropriate or sustainable. I just want to make the point that, while I laid-out the political advantages of the strategy I proposed, political advantage wouldn’t be the only reason I would suggest taking the position.

    • @Jeff Jedras, I’d argue that Liberals should be aggressively defending the public-finance system, and lay out the reasons why, rather then be sheepish in defending it, or be silent, or worse, decide to try and remove it.

      We complain about the Liberal Party not standing up for itself and defending ideals when they come under Conservative attack.. and I think they would be doing the very same thing if they caved on defending the public financing system.

  • Rural

    “an effort to make the system fair for all parties, both current and upcoming – provided they had the minimum votes in the country to warrant getting financed.

    The Liberals should not be trying to join the Conservatives in “reforming” the finance system based on narrow partisan considerations.”

    Thanks for that, I agree entirely! Those catering to the supporters with deep pockets cannot be allowed to TOTALLY dominate electoral campaigns by virtue of their corporate funding.

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