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Thursday, November 27, 2008

On the vote-subsidy backlash

The most fascinating part of the attempted elimination of the $2-(or so)-a-vote subsidy to major political parties is the unbelievably harsh opposition to it from all political stripes.

The cutting of these tax-funded subsidies is great news. Great. Forcing Canadians to support politicians who they wouldn't grant their vote to with money is a violation of freedom of association.

And don't give me that "the voters who voted for them pay it!" nonsense, either. Voter turnout is low in Canada - don't you people watch the news? I didn't vote because I don't think that any of them are worth a trip to a polling station, a buck, or any support, but my dollars go into "general revenue" to help fund this stuff, too.

Some say that we need the subsidies for a "fair democracy" but these folks should realize that they're claiming unless we fund parties whose voters wouldn't send them $2 a year, democracy loses. I mean, really. Send Liz May a toonie if it bugs you so much. Break out your own wallet and "save democracy" if you want, but leave mine alone.

Coyne weighed in, too:

I don’t care what their motivations are: it’s the right thing to do... Whether to contribute to a political party, and how much, and to whom, should be a private, personal matter — voluntary, individual decisions.

The $1.95 “allowance” violated every one of those principles. By abolishing it, the Tories are finishing the job Chretien started, of creating a truly citizen-based campaign finance system. Or not quite: even without this particular subsidy, the parties would still benefit from the hefty tax credit on political donations (the formal beneficiary is the donor, but in practice the incidence is shared), while candidates would still have their expenses partially reimbursed. But it’s certainly a big step in the right direction.

Coyne turned out to be in for the same harsh criticism the rest of us are drumming up. He did a great job of addressing some of the accusations, though:

I am fascinated by the abusive tone of so many of the comments, many of them fuelled by the belief that I am consciously or unconsciously consigning Canadian elections to, in the words of one commenter, a “limited economic demographic.” Or as another put it, “the golden rule, of he who has the gold should make the rules. That’s what you advocate for, yes?”

Um, no, actually. I’ve been an advocate for contribution limits (though I favour global annual limits, all political contributions combined, rather than specifying limits on each contribution) for years, since the days when corporations were handing over $100,000 cheques to the Liberal party and getting hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies in return. That’s not the system we have now. Though there remain loopholes that should be closed, the basic rule is a $1000  (indexed to inflation) ceiling on all individual donations. I know some readers think the limit should be “tens” of dollars, but a thousand-dollar limit does not strike me as handing control to “a limited economic demographic.”

I disagree with Coyne on contribution limits* but it's beside the point because the elimination of this subsidy, as Coyne points out, has NOTHING to do with them. (We can have that debate here at the Shotgun if you'd like, and we can decide whether out-fundraising the Liberals is worth suppressing the ability of a whole country to express their political opinions, but it's not the issue that's practically at hand.)

This is something that small-government advocates, fiscal conservatives and libertarians should *all* be happy about. What remains to be seen is whether the opposition will throw as epic a hissy fit as your typical blog commenter.

*Disclosure for the purpose of avoiding random accusations about my beliefs in the comments:

While I agree that we need to do something about lobbyists having so much power in government, since organized interest groups are still holding so much sway I'd say that the current rules haven't been effective and we ought to be looking for a policy that doesn't catch so many innocent Canadians in the crossfire.

I would be willing to let the bans on corporate and union donations slide (especially union, since dues are forced and spent unaccountably) but strongly advocate for the ability of individuals to throw as much of their money away on politicians as they'd like. I'd have politicians disclose all contributions, but that's it.

Posted by Janet Neilson on November 27, 2008 in Canadian Politics | Permalink


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Spot on Janet and I agree with you on both counts. To end this subsidy is a good thing for the reasons stated here, and not to put a cap on donations is also right.

Posted by: Alain | 2008-11-27 6:38:27 PM

I find the vision of the Political Welfare Bums standing on street corners having to ask voters for munney donations to their pot extremely attractive.

This would force the arrogant ones to listen to what voters really have to say.

In the long run, it would probably increase voter turnout due to closer contact between voter and candidate.

And keep the spending limit thingy for a few years.
Just to make guys like NDP Pat (This means war) Martin squirm a little longer.
It looks good on him.

Posted by: Rocky Thompson | 2008-11-27 7:21:02 PM

I have to wonder...
Is this a move to sink the opposition?
Will it bring a non confidence vote from the opposition?
Will it trigger another election?

Over all, I think they should never have been let to depend on taxpayer's money to run anything at all....ever!

Posted by: JC | 2008-11-27 7:36:57 PM

Janet, Alain, I totally agree.

Posted by: TM | 2008-11-27 7:43:20 PM

Not to mention that the only parties who qualify for subsidies have devoted followings anyway. Smaller parties get left in the dust.

Posted by: von | 2008-11-27 10:44:37 PM

I would like a return to democracy in funding. Let individuals, corporations, 3rd party organizations to donate whatever amount they want.

Posted by: Faramir | 2008-11-27 11:14:50 PM

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