Defend per-vote funding

Apparently, Stephen Harper is once again contemplating removing the per-vote party funding which nearly brought down his government last year.  And this time, he might just succeed, since the Liberal Party at this stage relies less on the mechanism.  This would be a tremendous step backwards for democracy and needs to be fought tooth and nail.

I’m wary of fighting for policies that benefit the Green Party, because they open us up to charges of promoting only what’s best for us.  But in this case, it’s so obviously a toxic policy that I find it easy to fight.

PM Harper will undoubtedly suggest that this is needed as a cost-cutting measure.  But there are at least five ways that our government finances political parties.  Stephen Harper wants to get rid of only one – the one that is the most representative of democracy, and also the one that proportionally benefits him least.  If he really wants to save money, why doesn’t he instead get rid of one of the other, less democratic, methods?

Here are the ways parties get funded:

  1. Political donations are refunded at the rate of 75% for the first $400, declining somewhat after that, but costing donors less than 1/2 of the full $1,100 maximum donation.  This donation can be given to political parties, to local Electoral District Associations and to candidates during elections, for a total contribution of $3,300 annually, funded 1/2 to 3/4 by the taxpayer.  Clearly donors with money to spare are far more likely to give, and as a result receive the government rebate.
  2. Spending by political parties during election time is reimbursed at 50% courtesy of the taxpayer.  Overwhelmingly this benefits parties that have attracted a large amount of donations and have money to spend.
  3. Spending by candidates during elections is reimbursed at 60%, provided the candidate obtains at least 10% of the vote.  This policy benefits established parties.  Most emerging parties are shut out of this funding altogether.
  4. Funding of elected representatives and government leaders is a tremendous benefit only to those who are successfully elected.  They get offices and paid staff, travel and housing allowances, in addition to access to power and influence.  Cabinet ministers get even more funding, more staff, more benefits.  The parties in Parliament, and particularly those in power, benefit tremendously from this funding, which is critical for government services, but not particularly democratically distributed.
  5. Per-vote funding is based on how people voted.  Even this is not completely indicative of voter intent.  Voters choose at the ballot box through a complex arithmetic involving access to information, candidate and party familiarity and ultimately voter strategy, which is rarely to vote for precisely what the voter wants.  Many Canadians don’t vote at all, or spoil their ballots, or cannot vote because they are immigrants or too young to vote.  Still, of the five funding mechanisms which transfer taxpayer money to political parties, this is by far the one that best represents the actual wishes of the public.

If Stephen Harper wants to save money, there’s plenty of money to be saved cutting out the rebates to donors who have thousands to give, or by stopping the financing of election campaigns.  Let’s leave the most democratic funding mechanisms intact.

5 responses to “Defend per-vote funding”

  1. Sharon Danley writes:

    I totally agree — in fact, I’m still waiting for the greens to get the money that would have gone to them have I been ALLOWED to vote. Yes, that’s right allowed. My father, grandfather, uncles, aunts all fought in WW2 and another uncle died so I could vote.

    Last election due to incredibly stupid staff at the polling station, where I’ve always voted, I was denied my right to exercise my vote and have been in a battle with Elections Canada ever since.

    There were also a number of people who told me directly that they had been mislead with respect to their polling stations and locations.

    Yet — nothing and I mean nothing has been done to rectify this.

    Appalling, appalling. Thanks to Ellen Michelson at least someone in government is helping to pursue this insult to Canadians and especially those who fought for us till it is rectified.

    Many thanks,
    Sharon Danley
    follow me on twitter — @SharonDanley

  2. Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu writes:

    Hi Sharon,

    One of the things I’ve been speaking out about is voter disenfranchisement in the last election.

    We know from many years watching elections in the United States that the threat of voter fraud, which is a negligible threat which has never been shown to swing elections, is used consistently by political groups of the right to enable the much greater problem of voter disenfranchisement. This has never been a problem in Canada until the last election, when adding to voter apathy and disgust, Prime Minister Harper threw in so many stumbling blocks to voters that he brought the vote down from highs around 80% in decades past to a stunning record low of 58%. Every party but the Greens got an absolute vote below that of the previous election.

    Ellen Michelson is one of my favourite Greens. She is sensible, astute and thoughtful. I wish you luck in pursuing this, not just on your behalf but for all the other Canadians who lost their voice.


  3. Sharon Danley writes:

    Thanks Adriana. I have recently presented Elizabeth May with the $1.95 from my own pocket and now I’m going to invoice Stephen Harper just to make the point. But even in this pursuit its a bureaucratic quagmire. However, I shall continue till I get some kind of satisfaction.

    Thanks again.

  4. John Richardson writes:

    Hello Adriana:

    Great article – raises a number of important issues. I actually linked to this in the following post on my blog.

    As you can see, I would encourage a system where we move to a form of “non-taxable” democracy. I would be interested in hearing more of your thoughts on this.

    John Richardson

  5. Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu writes:

    Thanks John,

    I can certainly understand your frustration with the political funding mechanisms as an independent candidate in this riding in the last election. I’d very much like to see more room for independent candidates (I’d also like to see MPs have more room to manoeuvre in Parliament even within the party system and I’m glad to say that the Green Party does encourage a degree of flexibility). I don’t think, though, that shutting off all funding is the way to go.

    Incumbents have a huge advantage for elections. In fact most Independents who have sat in Parliament in the last few decades were originally elected as party representatives, and then quit the party when a particular measure proved to be simply too toxic to their constituents for them to support. They win re-election only as incumbents.

    The only threat against incumbents comes from well-financed challengers. Unless we want a system that perpetuates an old-boy network, I think we desperately need a mechanism for challengers to get their foot in the door.

    I’d much rather see Elections Canada funding mechanisms extended to tiny parties and independents.

    I’d love for your campaign to get almost $2 a year for each vote you received. Your political campaign would get about $250 each year. Not a huge amount, but something you can put aside towards a stronger campaign next time. You’d have to use that money for political campaigns, donate over to another political campaign or return it to Elections Canada.

    Also, there’s no particular reason for the 10% rule. Why shouldn’t small parties and Independents also be reimbursed for 60% of their campaign expenses?

    The truth is that I’d like all campaigns, ultimately, to be funded by taxpayers entirely, because that’s really the only way to go if you’re serious about democracy.

    Any system that allows wealthier people more access to political power is more about one dollar one vote than one person one vote. Limiting donations is a good step, but it would be best if every Canadian could direct a small amount of funding (say $10, provided through Elections Canada) toward any political campaign he/she wished. In this scenario, if they choose not to direct that funding, they don’t get to keep the $10 themselves.

    Another option would be to have that extremely low limit of $10 per election. Either method would eliminate the unfair tilt toward candidates that attract voters with $3300 to spare.

    Keep in mind that under the current system, that $3300 actually costs donors something like $1500. The rest is ultimately paid by the taxpayer anyway. And with the reimbursement of 60% from Elections Canada added up over many elections, the original $3300 ends up as a whopping $8350, or even more. I can explain my calculations, but just trust me here.

    So rich people, who can spare the momentary loss of up to $3300 per year can give $3300 in an election year ($2200 in a non-election year), get to direct up to $8350 to a political campaign, almost $7000 of which is funded by taxpayers, most of whom consider themselves too poor to contribute themselves. It’s wrong.

    But even if there was no component of taxpayer funding, the $3300 limit is still deeply wrong because most Canadians don’t have that kind of cash, so it skews the political process towards those who do.

    In the absence of a mechanism severely restricting political donations from each individual, making the assumption that the vote is indicative of the direction an elector would want to spend it is a reasonable alternative. If anything, I’d prefer to strengthen this funding mechanism by enhancing the payout and extending it to small parties and independents.

    If we put it up to $10 per vote every year, then you would personally have $1300 more every year to spend until the next election based on your results last year. And I bet the average Canadian taxpayer would spend less than he/she does now subsidizing the contributions of wealthy “donors”.

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