Friday, April 01, 2011

An Alternative Reform of Campaign Finance

Harper plans to cut per-vote subsidies

With Prime Minister Stephen Harper continually reminding Canadians about the ill-fated socialist/separatist coalition then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion cobbled together in the wake of the 2008 election, no one needed a reminder.

But Harper sent just such a reminder today, when he announced that he would eliminate the per-vote subsidy political parties receive in the wake of an election.

"Taxpayers shouldn't have to support political parties that they don't support," Harper declared. "[It's] this enormous check that keeps piling into political parties every month, whether they've raised any money or not, that means we're constantly having campaigns. The war chests are always full."

Harper says that he plans to end the continuous threat of an election by cutting those funds off, leaving parties to fundraise on their own.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff responded with a blatant fear-mongering attack.

"We have a democratic system at the right price -- it's economical, it creates a level playing field," Ignatieff declared. "If he wants to attack it he will face the resistance of all parties."

"Do you defend Canadian democracy or do you want to import American-style democracy into this country?" Ignatieff asked. "I don't think so, because you get big money, you get corruption, you get all the problems that bedevil American democracy."

If only it were so. Harper's bid to eliminate the per-vote subsidy does not, on its own, re-open the door for corporate or union money to reenter Canadian partisan politics, even if Elizabeth May -- far from a renowned constitutional scholar -- seems to think that it should.

If Ignatieff were wise, he would offer some kind of alternative reform to keep the per-vote subsidy alive.

He would begin by proposing that any party wishing to receive the per-vote subsidy must run candidates in a minimum of 75% or 80% of Canada's ridings. Right now, there is only one major party that doesn't do this: the Bloc Quebecois.

Frankly, federalist Canadians are offended that the Bloc Quebecois, a country that wants to break Canada apart, gets to make their pitch to do so on the taxpayer dime. Ignatieff would not only win the approval of Canadians by cutting the Bloc out, he would also restore his party's tarnished image as a stalwart of federalism.

Ignatieff would further propose that any party that wants to receive the per-vote subsidy elect their leaders through a primary election process.

As respected a Canadian journalist as John Ibbitson proposed this very idea in Open & Shut. While many adherents of Canada's opposition parties would likely denounce this kind of reform as "too American", it would actually make Canada's electoral politics far more democratic and responsive than they are today.

As Ibbitson himself notes, without the primary process, Barack Obama could have never been nominated for President, let alone could he have won. (Although the results of Obama's tenure cast doubt on whether this was actually for the best.)

It would be a simple choice for Canadian political parties: they could choose to be open and democratic, and be rewarded with public support, or they could choose to be insular and parochial -- and receive no such reward.

But Canadian voters should expect Michael Ignatieff to make no such proposal. He's too busy fear-mongering in the current election while accusing Stephen Harper of doing it.

So far as campaign finance reform goes, such an implicitly democratic reform is just a sweet, sweet dream.


  1. Here, here!
    And wasn't it the LPC who introduced the vote subsidy around the same time they were picking our pockets in adscam?

  2. I believe you could be right about that...

  3. An article confirming it was Chretien's gov't which introduced the vote subsidy:

    Talk about double dipping! They cut off funding from corps. and unions, attempting to kneecap the NDP and Conservaties, while they would be getting the vote subsidy and the adscam $ to maintain power. And what happens as a result, they fortify the Bloc, assuring their success in QC.

    End the subsidy now!

  4. In her book, Elizabeth May argues that it would be unconstitutional to end the per-vote subsidy without lifting the limits on corporations and unions.

    Frankly, she doesn't defend the argument very well. She offers very little support for it. A constitutional scholar, she really isn't.

    Then again, let's be brutally frank: if left-wingers want corporations to fund every fantasy project they conceive of, they'll pretty much have to lift restrictions on corporations funding political parties.

    It's very simple: you can't make someone fund all your big-state projects and then not give them a voice.


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