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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Speaking of Welfare Bums

It looks like the biggest welfare bums in the country, leaving aside some of our largest corporations and unions, are addicted to the public teat. Well I should be more precise. They're addicted to another one of the public's teats.

The handouts for political parties created by former prime minister Jean Chretien have relieved taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars, relieved the Bloc Quebecois of having to fundraise, and cursed Canadians to a life of never-ending election campaigns -- but getting rid of them, as the Conservatives want to do, is likely unrealistic, says a new study co-authored by a former Tory campaign manager.

The report by Tom Flanagan and David Coletto, to be released today by the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy, concludes that while the Conservatives continue to promise to eliminate the $1.95-per-vote allowance Elections Canada doles out to federal parties every quarter, any attempt to end the program is bound to leave party organizations financially "crippled."

Which would be horrible. Poor little politicians. "Crippled." Just like Tiny Tim really. The children, and angels, shall weep for them. The vote subsidies faded into history one of Canada's most storied icons: the Liberal Bagman. Once a common sight along Bay and St James streets (at least before the latter was boarded up and renamed), the Liberal Bagman, with his trusty bag (actually a fine Italian leather suitcase in most instances) would make the rounds just before election time. 

Typically he would make appointments with senior executives at Amalgamated Nickel Smelting, or Consolidated Maple Syrup Assurance, and other legendary names of Canadian capitalism. The conversation, before World War Two, would involve gentle and erudite discussions of the tariff structure i.e. how high the import taxes would be on the products of their American competitors. This discussion, involving both high finance and low politics, would conclude with the Liberal Bagman leaving the offices, his bags heavier for his efforts. The next morning a train trip to Ottawa and meetings with the National Party Executive. After the war the process was made more complex, as were many things in that time, and chats about tariff structure replaced with lengthier conversations, involving graphs and statistics, about "economic development grants." The world of the Liberal Bagman, overall, was a simple one. A cherished Canadian tradition. Like white-outs conditions on the 401 at 8:15 am on a Monday in January. Expected, dangerous and endured as we endured all things here in the Elder Dominion. 

Papa Jean Shawinigan wanted to stop this. Perhaps he wanted to leave a lasting legacy for the nation. Having climbed the greasy pole - very greasy in his case, but I digress - he wanted to clean up politics before he went to that great subsidized golf course in the sky. Or perhaps he just wanted to knee cap Paul Martin. The old guy was like dat you knows. Having faded the Liberal Bagman into the history books - the key book incidentally is The Government Party - the Chretien reforms have also reduced accountability. Adhering fervently as I do to H.L. Mencken's Dictum of Government - "Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods." - the reforms are a loss. Donations are one of the few controls we have on the auctioneers. The appeal of banning corporate and union donations is a strong one. The only thing most unions and corporations want from government are special favours. 

Keeping donations smallish, and from individuals, would put a curb on lobbyists and rent seekers. In theory. What generates demand for rent seeking, and other parasitic activity, is big government itself. So long as government tries to play saviour and nanny to the nation, people will be trying to influence government. If it's not done through direct campaign donations, other means will be found.

One of the most popular, in the United States, is single issue advertising campaigns. Rather than financing particular candidates, unions and corporations simply finance particular issues. This indirectly supports, or opposes, candidates who have take public positions on the issue. Another trick was to setup brass plate groups or corporations to funnel money to candidates. These roundabout methods provoked further controls of campaign contributions, in the form of McCain-Feingold. It is an old rule of government that new laws beget new loopholes, which in turn beget new laws. Last week SCOTUS stopped this tightening of free speech, perhaps mortally wounding McCain-Feingold. 

Canada is still in the early stages of banning and controlling who can give what to whom. Laws that ban corporations and unions will, in time, wind up banning most private advocacy groups from fighting for their beliefs. Yes, some will be mercenary lobbyists, some will be ordinary people that big government has sat upon in some way. Lobbying is their way of fighting back, often it's their only way. Laws that clamp down on big corporations and unions, will in time come down on smaller groups. Banning large contributions, whether from individuals or groups, also acts as a check on political entrepreneurship. It was a small group of California businessmen who underwrote Ronald Reagan's election campaign for Governor in 1966.

Posted by Richard Anderson on January 28, 2010 | Permalink


“There is a simple way to get corporate money out of politics: get the government out of our lives and economic affairs. If government has no favors to sell, no one will spend money trying to win them.”

—John Stossel

Posted by: Farmer Joe | 2010-01-28 10:59:20 AM

Chretien was the second worst PM in Canadian history, surpassed only by Pierre the Terrible (peace to his victims).

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2010-01-28 11:10:56 AM

Pubilius is anti liberty, this is evident in the absence of acknowledging the passing of Howard Zinn,by instead posting pieces that have no significance what so ever, becuase they debate minutiae.

Imagine a world and a board where people actually are quoting stossel, from a perspective that he is visionary, when real intellectuals are ignored. What a bunch of well written droolers.

Posted by: The minority, a slim canadian | 2010-01-28 12:10:46 PM

And what exactly is stopping you or anyone else from publishing quotes of Howard Zinn?

Posted by: Farmer Joe | 2010-01-28 2:26:22 PM

Well Zinn did collaborate with Noam Chomsky, a known supporter of Holocaust deniers...

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2010-01-28 4:34:37 PM

Stossel was right on the money with that one, take powers of the government to do favors away.

Posted by: Floyd Looney | 2010-01-28 4:39:42 PM

Farmer Joe and Floyd, hear! hear!

Posted by: Alain | 2010-01-28 5:52:31 PM

What is much more pernicious is the charitable write off that kicks back, what is it, %80 for political donations? At least the $1.95 gives the voter/taxpayer a say in where their tax $1.95 will go. This is much preferable to being forced to subsidize parties and propagandists (the Fraser Howe inst, for instance) they don't support. In fact, this approach should be expanded, say giving taxpayers the choice of whether to fund the CBC or freeloading conservative farmers or the military with a portion of their taxes.. Could your position have anything to do with the fact that eliminating the per vote subsidy and not the donation subsidy would favour right wing yahoos?

Posted by: phil | 2010-01-28 7:47:42 PM

Could your position have anything to do with being a left-wing yahoo?

Posted by: Publius | 2010-01-28 7:51:13 PM

Without the 1.95 gratuity, Elizabeth May would be washing dishes somewhere instead of being leader of the greenies. The next election would be bland with no shrill voice pleading to save the planet. Where else can you find that kind of entertainment for under 2 bucks ??.

Posted by: peterj | 2010-01-28 8:24:58 PM

I'm for the separation of the state and the economy.

Posted by: TM | 2010-01-28 8:44:10 PM

I'm for the separation of the state and the economy.

Posted by: TM | 2010-01-28 8:44:10 PM

The more I thought about that statement the more confused I got. Please humor me and explain.

Posted by: peterj | 2010-01-28 9:16:17 PM


I'm assuming TM (correct me if I'm wrong of course TM) means the state should only be protecting individual property rights. Indidividuals should be allowed to operate within the confines of this framework without gov't interference.

Posted by: Charles | 2010-01-29 5:10:59 AM

peterj, I may be idealistic, but the state does more harm to the economy than good. In fact any good they do could be better in a free market. We have recongnized the danger of the state controlling the church, and therefore most of us agree the two should be separate. I use the term "separation of state and..." to look at the issue in terms most people can relate to. By most people I don't mean you and Charles and Alain etc., but rather the socialist leaning relatives and people I meet.

I first heard the term "sepration of state and school" and thought it was very clever.

Charles, yes that is what I meant.

Posted by: TM | 2010-01-29 9:12:04 AM

Go for the invective over defending your bias. Telling.
For the $1.95 you kick in, in a political donation, other taxpayers are forced kick in $7.80.
The per vote $1.95 follows your voting preference, no one is coerced to subsidize that preference. If you don't want that $1.95 to go to anyone, don't vote. Sounds fair to me.
No, I'm not a left wing yahoo (I think the condition s unique to the right), nor am I a hypocrite, wanting to get rid of only the big government that doesn't benefit "my" side.

Posted by: phil | 2010-01-29 9:38:40 AM

If you don't want that $1.95 to go to anyone, don't vote. Sounds fair to me.

Posted by: phil | 2010-01-29 9:38:40 AM

phil, you are partly right when you say this. The $1.95 does not come from your pocket directly so if you don't vote then you pay your share of the total paid to all MP's elected, less $1.95.

Posted by: TM | 2010-01-29 10:42:10 AM

phil, to clarify what I said above, I mean the you don't may your share less the $1.95. I mean you take the subtotal, subract $1.95 from it, then calculate your share of the total. It will make no difference to you whatsoever other than to make you feel better that there is $1.95 less to be paid in such an immoral way. Which by the way, I agree with.

Posted by: TM | 2010-01-29 10:46:10 AM

Fine, then let's put it in terms of public financing of electoral campaigns. The partisan position here seems to be the per vote subsidy is bad because it is proportional and doesn't advantage the Conservatives, while the tax credit contribution is OK, even though that too is public financing, but neither proportional nor fair, but it does favour Conservatives. So you are not exercised about public financing per se, as long as your guy gets an edge. Hardly a principled position.

Posted by: phil | 2010-01-29 11:25:48 AM


NOW I know what you meant and agree completely.

Posted by: peterj | 2010-01-29 12:08:15 PM


As far as I am concerned, both the subsidy and the tax credit should be done away with.

Posted by: Charles | 2010-01-29 1:22:16 PM

I have never been a fan of the tax credit method of financing political parties - I feel if you want give $100.00 to your favorite party go ahead use "your" money any way you want. Just forget about taxing the rest of us to support your agenda.

The per vote cast subsidy is much more fair as it reflects actual participation in the electoral process, and it has a trackable spending cap built in.

Posted by: Chris Hooymans | 2010-01-29 6:51:12 PM

Phil, I agree with Charles. No public finacing of any kind is best.

Posted by: TM | 2010-01-30 1:44:40 PM

Phil has it right. The 1.95 vote subsidy is the best way of funding political parties, and in my opinion should be the ONLY way parties should be allowed to raise money. The tax deduction is a lot worse, and less fair. The tax deduction favours the party that caters to the rich, because the rich have more money to donate. There should be no tax deduction for political donations. The tax deduction forces people to pay for donations to parties they are opposed to.

Posted by: DrGreenthumb | 2010-02-05 7:24:08 AM

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