Subsidizing separatism [subsidies to federal political parties]
NationalPost.com – opinion
Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011
There are many problems with Canada’s system of public, taxpayer-funded subsidies to federal political parties. The three biggest are: (1) The payments subsidize incumbency, making it easier for MPs and governments to get reelected, and harder for challengers; (2) they force taxpayers to subsidize parties and ideologies with which they disagree, and so effectively comprise a species of coerced political expression; and (3) they make parties lazy by permitting them to rely on easy dollars from the public treasury, rather than having to go out and earn their donations through the creation of attractive platforms. Simply put, the current Canadian system of paying parties just over $2 for every vote they won in the most recent election weakens the connection between parties and voters. As a result, it weakens the vibrancy of Canadian democracy.
What’s worse, the payments disproportionately subsidize the very politicians whose self-declared mission is to carve Quebec out of Canada.
Consider: The Tories rely on public per-vote payments for about 40% of their annual party operating funds. For the NDP, the figure is slightly less than 60%. For the Liberals, it’s around 70%. But for the separatist Bloc Quebecois, the figure is between 85% and 90%. Despite Gilles Duceppe’s ardour to remove Quebec from Canada, he is not too proud to fund almost his entire party apparatus through free money dispensed by a Canadian agency.
But in fact, the subsidy effect is even more lopsided in favour of the separatists than the numbers above would indicate.
Consider: Last year, the Tories received $10.4-million from taxpayers through the party-finance scheme administered by Elections Canada. The Liberals were given $7.3-million, the New Democrats $5-million, the Bloc Quebecois $2.8-million and the Greens $1.9-million. (There’s another outrage for you. The Greens have never managed to earn enough votes in any riding to elect a single MP, ever. Yet taxpayers are still forced to give Elizabeth May’s niche party $2-million a year to run its offices, pay its leader and her expenses, and fund its policy conferences.)
But while the money is paid out based on the results of the last election, its impact should be measured according to the effect on the next one. A logical methodology for this is to divide each party’s allotment by the number of eligible voters. I.e. how thinly or thickly does each party spread its available funds. By this calculation, the Bloc receives the highest subsidy, even though it receives a smaller allocation, in absolute terms, than any party but the seat-less Greens.
The four federalist parties all must spread their subsidies out over the country’s roughly 24-million voters, while the Bloc — which only ever contests ridings in Quebec — may concentrate its tax dollars on the slightly fewer than six million voters in Quebec.
On a per-eligible-voter basis, the Greens receive about 10¢ per voter per year, the NDP receives about 20¢, the Liberals a little more than 30¢, and the Tories about 40¢. But the Quebec-only Bloc receives 50¢.
That means that under the current Liberal-devised party-funding scheme — a scheme Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to end in late 2008, but which was prevented from terminating by the opposition parties — Canadian taxpayers are giving the separatists a disproportionate boost in their efforts to keep Bloc MPs in Ottawa and win independence for Quebec.
These subsidies were never a good idea. They don’t remove lobbyists’ or corporations’ or unions’ influence over our politics; they merely force influence peddlers to find new, more creative channels for their efforts. And they distort our national political landscape in all the ways outlined above. They are one of those good ideas that appeals to elites in the name of fairness and level playing fields, but which turn out to be more symbolism than substance. They entrench elitism rather than lessening it.
A better way to reform our party finance rules would be to focus entirely on transparency. Make the parties disclose every donation of money or services they receive, including the donor’s identity, and let voters decide for themselves whether or not they’re prepared to vote for a party that has taken big corporate, union or individual donations.
It’s wrong as a matter of principle to let the government choose, on behalf of voters, just who can and cannot contribute to our political parties, and how much. And it’s wrong as a matter of practice since the biggest beneficiary of our funding laws has been the one party that seeks to break up the country.
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