Flaherty to end campaign welfare

On November 7th, I argued that we should end government-subsidized campaign welfare in this country and follow the example set by President-elect Barack Obama and amend our electoral system to eliminate our $1.95-per-vote subsidy received by political parties each year. During the US Presidential campaign, Obama did not take a single dollar of public financing and went on to win the election. On a panel for the Public Policy Forum yesterday, I suggested to my Obama-obsessed co-panelist Judy Rebick that Mr. Hope and Change had set the wheels in motion for the elimination of public money for political campaigns.

In my post earlier this month, I suggested that such a system implemented in Canada would cause parties to actually appeal to the electorate and work for donations rather than put their hand out for a per-vote subsidy for being the least offensive option. The theory goes that if our politics inspires (Yes We Can) rather than demonizes (No They Can’t), people will show additional financial support that parties should depend on rather than be the public cash-receptacle of successful fear mongering campaigns that they are. How many Quebeckers these days actually support the Bloc Quebecois on its principles (they’ve all but abandoned sovereignty these days) rather than voting for that party to “block” the Conservatives or the Liberals?

I argued that we should end party welfare to motivate parties to appeal on their own issues.

In the past couple of hours, we’ve learned that in Jim Flaherty’s economic update tomorrow, the Conservative government will move to do just that in the name of showing that even politicians can tighten their own belts.

I may have been a bit of a tongue-in-cheek cynic by using the Obama magic to suggest removing critical funding from two parties of the left. The Bloc Quebecois, as mentioned, has depended on their status as those that could block Liberal corruption in 2006 and the Conservative Party’s… er conservatism in 2008. The Liberal Party on the other hand has depended upon what they are not. Specifically, they have warned Canadians of the Harper hidden agenda and what the Conservatives would do if they had a majority. In this spot and in relative comfort, the Liberals have relied on their per-vote subsidy. Under the new proposed financing cuts, the strength of the Liberal brand won’t matter as it is veritably without substance as conservatism is represented by the CPC and progressive politics is claimed by a resurgent NDP.

CTV reports that under Flaherty’s cuts, the parties could stand to lose up to:

* Conservatives: $10 million
* Liberals: $7.7 million
* NDP: $4.9 million
* Bloc Quebecois: $2.6 million
* Green Party: $1.8 million

Late this evening, I’ve learned that the per-vote subsidy stands to be reduced in full.

In this, the Conservatives aim to level a strategic blow to the Liberals as Conservative fundraising efforts — rooted in the Reform tradition of passing the hat in legion halls and church basements — has remained strong. Buoyed by detailed supporter databases, the party is set to compete on an advantageous — despite it’s now mutually diminished — footing with other parties. The Liberal Party still has not mastered grassroots fundraising and with an expensive year ahead with another leadership convention, Liberals will need to determine how to appeal (and fast) if they are to survive as a viable organization.



68 thoughts on “Flaherty to end campaign welfare”

  1. I've never liked the idea that the political parties should profit from citizens just “doing their duty”.

  2. I think the NDP might just support it – they raise a good amount by themselves. It might give them a chance to overtake the Liberals.

  3. Nice. Positive spin with taxpayers who hate to pay for what they don't support. Cripple Liberal finances as leadership campaigns (past and present) and past election campaign borrowing and loan to run the party last year eat ay at vastly reduced income. need funds and they lose caucus funding. Heaven! Bankrupt Bloc and Greens who seem to have exceedingly few people who willing donate money to them. Nirvana!

  4. Great idea – this is going to hit the Liberal$ hard – first no $2 + billion dollar donations from numbered companies represented by major corporations to the Liberal$ and not the end to the vote subsidy.

    Does this mean that Canada is once again in the hands of the people?

  5. Stephen,

    When I heard this today, I immediately thought back to your post discussing this obscene practice. I wonder, how many every day Canadians, understood the dollar amount of this gravy train. This is exciting for so many reasons but especially cutting off the Bloc from money from 9 provinces and the territiories. I hope it happens!

  6. I applaud the government if they do this. It is extremely offensive to me as a taxpayer that political parties have access to my wallet without having to earn it on the door step. Contributions should be voluntary.

  7. Wow. My God.

    Can this pass? Does he want to force an election?

    This is tantmount to a declaration of war! It will bankrupt the BQ, Greens and possibly the Libs!

  8. Well Jon, on any other day this would for sure result in an election. But I find it hard to believe that the liberals would be at all enthusiastic to go into another election with Dion as their leader, another $20 million election bill, all the while trying to borrow milions from banks that aren't lending.

    Besides, the optics wouldn't be so good for them. A fourth election in four years. How do you justify going to the polls (again (and again (and again))) to the Canadian people. How do you tell them that $300 million should be spent on an election so the Liberals can keep their $7 million/year allowance courtesy of the Canadian tax payer during the worst economic forecast in a least a generation.

    If I were the Liberals, I'd be worried. This scenario will no doubt put them between a rock and hard place. If they don't bring the house down these public financing changes will make their already dire financial predicament a lot worse. If they do bring the house down they'll be stuck with a $20 million bill that won't be easily remedied. If these changes do go forward, the Bloc Quebecois will fold and the Conservatives will be the net benefactors of it in Quebec. The greens will also likely fold or become greatly reduced in size. This will make it a whole lot harder for the liberals to win any kind of government, let alone a majority.

    Remember, only 10 opposition MP's need to vote in favor, or 20 need to abstain for this to pass.

  9. I think we may see the NDP support this… They have just as much interest in seeing the Liberals fall as the Conservatives do.
    They also do CLAIM to be a “grass roots” party, and this would fit nicely into that mold…
    All that being said, would anybody really trigger an election over this???

  10. Harper has made a huge miscalculation here. The three opposition parties are on teleconference tonight planning a coalition government.

    This will be known as the biggest strategic blunder in Canadian politics.

  11. Will this gang of hacks ever do anything that isn't motivated by a desire to screw their opponents?

    It is not enough that they won the election just over one month ago mocking the LIberals as the party that will bring back deficits, lying through their teeth as they were fully aware that their reckless spending had already put Canada in the red, now they are basically trying to undermine all political opposition.

    Why don't they just declare a one party state?

  12. Well Ted…

    I can't wait for the LPC,NDP and BQ to try to force a coalition government over not getting enough of tax payers money in these economic times….


  13. I don't think it's a strategic blunder. I can't see how the Lips, Dips, and Bloc can form a government together. First off, how would the Bloc justify their existence as a party if they join the Liberals? How would nationalist Liberals feel towards having separatists among their ranks. How would more centrist/conservative liberals feel working with the NDP. How would the NDP say they represent the little guy if they becoming the whipping boy for the Grits.

    Any thoughts? They'll be a lot of moaning but in the end the changes will pass.

  14. It's some of the best news I have heard in a few days. Thank goodness for a responsible behaviour from the CPC.

    The media and the public will eat this up. The sky is falling on the lousy opposition parties.

  15. Like you said, it puts the opposition parties between a rock and a hard place; on the one hand, financially they cannot support the motion because it will cut so deeply into the funding on which they all depend to varying extents.

    On the other hand, if they force an election, then Harper would be wise to frame the election as a referendum on political parties using taxpayer dollars to run their operations rather than donations by supporters. We can all imagine how that will turn out!

    It's a shame the Tories didn't think of this before calling the last election; they could've gotten the opposition to call the election for them, and – with the election framed as a referendum on public political funding – we'd probably be being governed by a Tory majority right now.

    Bottom line – the more I think about this, the more one word keeps popping into my head: CHECKMATE!

  16. I honestly don't see how the parties will be able to officially oppose this. Parties absorbing millions of taxpayer dollars in tough economic times looks horrible to support, even if you use the 'democracy needs to be financially supported' argument. Secondly, they can't say the Conservatives are solely trying to destroy the Liberals, as the numbers prove that the Conservatives have the most to lose!

    The parties will get their backbenchers to raise a fuss in the house and media, but ultimately will support it. It would be way worse in the public's eyes to not.

  17. Yeah, Obama originally wanted to accept public financing – he and McCain both pledged to run their campaigns with the federal funding (and thus spending limits). Obama flip-flopped on that when he realized how much money he was raising in private and industry donations.

  18. All parties must support such a measure to cut the cost of government in these trying times. The fact that fewer and fewer Canadians are showing up to vote, indicates they do not want to contribute their $1.95 to any party. Perhaps if the subsidy were eliminated, more Canadians would feel like voting knowing that their vote is not costing them $1.95.

    Think outside the box, folks … that's where you will find reality.

  19. You are mischaracterizing Obama. The public financing model in the US is unworkable because it limits the total amount that you can spend, but your opponent can then opt out and outspend you. If there were hard spending limits in the US, the public financing model would be more attractive. Moreover, Obama has vowed to bring in reforms that would strengthen public financing laws. You are deliberately misrepresenting Obama’s views on campaign financing to make your argument.

  20. The Libs and NDP would never form a coalition with the BQ. Imagine the damage any party that allows separatists to actually be a part of the government would receive!

  21. To be honest, most voters don't even know about the subsidy, so I doubt that is what is affecting their votes. What the biggest driving force behind voter apathy is simply that Canadian elections haven't been very competitive. The biggest single drop in turnout occurred between 1993 and 1997 – when everyone and their dog knew the liberals were going to be reelected, since neither the Reform or the Bloc had a chance in hell of getting a plurality. While turnout increased in 2006 a bit due to the idea we might have a change in governments, the latest low figure was driven by the fact everyone knew the Conservatives were going to get reelected, most likely with a minority. Hell, the papers were predicting this before the writs were even dropped!

    When people know the outcome, they see their vote as useless and not worth the time and effort of casting.

    But back to the topic at hand, I honestly believe that this is a master move by PMSH, and perhaps the final step in his master plan of eliminating the Liberals.

  22. Although I agree with the idea of cutting the subsidies, this move could be very dangerous. First, for some voters, the idea that, if their vote didn't get their candidate to win, at least their vote got their party some money. Second, none of the three opposition parties can afford this (maybe the NDP, but they've already come out firmly against it. Third, the opposition don't need to come together as a coalition government if the government falls on this vote…

    They just need a legislative agenda, and right now, with the economic uncertainty, all they need to do is agree to put aside their differences and work on getting Canada through the crisis before going for an election. Michaelle Jean would have no choice but to agree to let them run the country by coalition rather than plunge the country into another election so soon past the old one.

    If this is actually happening, I hope they get the support from another party to make it pass. The alternative is scary. And I hope that's not what they're banking on as a plan B, by letting the opposition take the blame for deficits, possible recession, or potential deflation. Not worth it.

  23. yeah because private funding of government & party politics

    WORKED SO WELL FOR AMERICANS & all the nations affected by Fort Benning's WHINSEC/School of the Americas.


    (jesus, where do these people come from? you'd think they'd never cracked a newspaper or investigative journalism book in their lives)

  24. This move would be very popular with the majority of the voting public. The opposition parties will scream foul, naturally, and the liberal-lefty-loving media will of course fall over themselves to help them. The best part of this plan is it will end the absolutely ridiculous practice of Canadian taxpayers funding the Bloc Quebecios – a party that's only reason for being is dedicated to separating a major province from Canada. And the ever-whining, loud-mouth NDP should actually like this idea – they're own fund-raising has been steadily increasing, hasn't it? and they know this will handcuff the Liberals – so, the NDP should think this is a brilliant chance for them.

  25. Please, Canadians taxpayers do not support the parties.

    Voters of the parties do – who are taxpayers, yes.

    But to alledge that those who vote Conservative, as an example, are supporting the Opposition is a blatant mispresentation of what actually happens. If I vote Conservative, my vote counts as $1.95 to the Conservatives.

    If I vote Liberal, my vote counts as $1.95 to the Liberals.

    IF the Conservatives were serious about working with parliament and ending the games of past (sure, tell me another one) they would separate this out from the budget.

  26. There’s an old song called “Rumours are Flying”, I’d like to dedicate it to Robert McClelland. Sometimes rumours stem from wishful thinking getting carried away.

    This possible ending of campaign welfare is sure getting Opposition hackles up. Even the humble party of the kitchen table and we feel your pain, the NDP are yelping through the mouth of the verbose Pat Martin. It’s a good hit on the Bloc, no way we should be forced to support a Separatist party.

    This is a smart move on the part of our government. Opposition will oppose it at their peril, it’s invoking the rock and the hard place scenario for all of them in these tough economic times.

  27. Actually this measure – $1.50 per vote – was brought in because corporate donations were banned and individuals were limited (by some guy name Chretien, I believe). Does Harper plan on going back then, to the old model? I mean if ifs really about “political party welfare” then I expect the government to rescind any regulations and laws that prevent parties from raising funds.


    Glad to see you admit this is nothing to do with fiscal responsibility and everything to do with trying to destroy the opposition. How very proto-fascist of you. Screw democracy if it means burying the Liberals eh?

    Well, if the CPC can ignore Election's Canada rules when it comes to campign finance (In and Out anyone?) then so can the other parties.

    Have fun and good luck, you are going to need it.

  28. I laughed out loud when I heard about this. The devastation it will cause to the other parties! This handout is the only way they fund their office staff and media string-pullers. The Bloc will be toast. Brilliant.
    On the other hand, it may encourage the Liberals to return to their evil old shakedown routine. For decades they financed the party by seeking bribes/protection money from the private sector. Company executives couldn’t refuse when the local Liberal bagman came calling for cash; if you refused, the next time they are in power they make sure you suffer.
    Still, I hope it happens.

  29. To take away this sort of funding assumes that you will always have the upper hand in that this decision will benefit, but that’s not always the case and the Cons will eventually get screwed by this. Dumb move. Just an attempt to snuff out Libs. Once Libs re-orient themselves for a grassroots fundraising campaign they will leave NDP and Cons in the dust. They’ve just never yet tried this method.

  30. Two comments Stephen:
    1. If you’re comparing to Obama, don’t forget their donation limits are obviously higher – so obviously easier to raise money. With our limits so low (which were reduced with the knowledge this subsidy was in exchange), to run an effective campaign will require many, many people to donate. I worry that this will severely limit the voices of those in the minority or on the fringes and automatically give major advantage to the sitting party. Just a concern.
    2. Don’t forget the biggest subsidy of all – tax receipts. Why is a tax deduction (which obviously costs the government) okay, but direct subsidies are not?

  31. I support the move to reduce or eliminate taxpayer money per vote going to political parties as a temporary measure.
    Please allow me to immodestly blow my own horn. I suggested exactly such a move at Joanne’s blog on October 22nd, 2008 at 11:40 pm
    [Glad to see members of the government reading and taking suggestions from the general public seriously 😉 ]

    However, a couple of things should be pointed out:
    1. Obama’s campaign was not funded merely by small grassroots donations. He also received quite substantial donations from financiers like George Soros, and questions were raised about the legality of “untraceable donations” as well as individual donation limits being exceeded:

    2. The $1.95 per vote a party receives comes from votes cast in that particular party’s favour. In other words, I am not involuntarily supporting the Bloc or the Greens, for example, with my vote (now worth $1.95 per year) but I AM supporting the party I vote for.

    3. If changes are made to individual donation limits (now at $1100 per year), perhaps the tax credit accorded to such donations should be lowered. If I am not mistaken, a $100 donation now garners a $75 tax credit. Perhaps the tax credit should be lowered.

    4. Donations from unions and corporations should not be reinstated.

  32. Public Financing – An argument for democracy

    Stephen Harper’s cynical plan to eliminate public financing will result in no less than the deterioration of Canadian democracy, particularly with respect to access and representation for the underprivileged and young voters.

    Eliminating funding for political parties, which will ultimately result in the eradication (or in any case the severe hobbling) of a the smaller, though no less legitimate parties, is prejudicial and injurious both to the voters who choose to vote for those smaller parties, and to those parties which rely on a greater margin of supporters in demographics where financial support may not come as easily as it does for the more mainstream parties. This is no less than an absolute deterrent for new parties to form, and makes it virtually impossible for parties not in the mainstream to remain legitimate enough to add their perspectives, and the perspectives of their voting supporters, to the political discourse.

    Why should someone who cannot afford to donate to their party of choice be now effectively disbarred from voting for that party, simply because that party is not in the mainstream and therefore cannot afford to keep up? The Green party, for example, draws a wider margin of its support from students and youth; a demographic most will agree are less able to afford political donations, particularly as they continue to be ignored by the Harper government. Would we not prefer to encourage young people to vote, rather than disenfranchising them by cynically reducing their political selection?

    Public financing allows for added political options, and therefore greater choice and better representation in Canadian democracy. Harper’s scheme to eliminate such funding, which has little or nothing to do with fiscal restraint – his record shows no desire to restrain even the irresponsible spending by his own cabinet – is merely an attempt to restrain democracy itself. Of course, this should come as no surprise move from the party of the “In & Out” scheme, the Cadman Affair, NAFTAgate, and the numerous muzzled and fired public officials who dared to simply do their jobs.

  33. Win Win…..THe liberals and NDP would look real cute in a coalition gov't with the Bloc who loath the rest of this country. How would this new party govern after teh Bloc decided to seperate from teh country.

  34. “Why should someone who cannot afford to donate to their party of choice be now effectively disbarred from voting for that party.”
    While you raise some valid points, Michael, I disagree with this part of your post.

    How are voters “disbarred from voting” because they cannot afford to donate to the party of their choice or because they may no longer receive the $1.95 per vote cast in their favour?
    Does it mean that all previous votes cast were cast only by donors to party coffers?
    And does it mean that prior to the new funding law introduced in 2003, every voter was “disbarred from voting” because political parties did not receive the $1.75 per vote cast in their favour?

    Allow me to give you a personal example. I received the privilege of casting a vote back in 1983 when I became a Canadian citizen. I have been voting ever since, even though marginally interested in politics (until 2005).
    Was there the same system of taxpayer funding for political parties during those years? No.
    Was I “disbarred from voting” from 1983-2005? No.
    Was I interested at that time to contribute/fund any party in particular? No.
    Did my vote still count? Yes, it was my freely expressed voice.
    I began donating to my party in 2005 to the party that best represents my ideas and values.
    Is my vote any more significant now? NO.
    It was valid then, it is just as valid now.

  35. The difference, Gabby, was during that time, the parties had other fund raising options – corporate and union donations, third-party organizations and individual donations without a ceiling. None of these apply now and individuals are limited by law to $1275 per year.

    If this was really about fiscal responsibility, why wouldn't the government also do the following:

    1. Remove the restriction on individual amounts. What business is it of the government how much I wish to donate to any party?

    2. Remove the ban on corporate, union and third party donations. If I don't like what these organizations do, its between myself and the organizations, not the business of the government.

    3. Drop the tax credit for political donations. THAT would have a huge impact fiscally and it means that parties get to survive on donations alone, not subsidies (and make no mistake, this amounts to a subsidy to every party much larger than $1.90 vote).

    Doing all of that would get ALL the public money out of supporting political parties altogether and each would, as people here keep saying, make the parties support themselves rather than be on “campaign welfare”.

    Why not? Why isn't Jim Flaherty proposing all of these?

    Because #1 and #2 would benefit the Liberals and the NDP and #3 would hurt the Conservatives.

    This is not about fiscal prudence or the principle of getting public money out of campaigns, its about using the coercive power of the state to benefit one party while punishing the others. Its a purely cynical partisan move meant to destroy the Liberal Party and weaken the Bloc, by means other than the ballot box.

    Shame on the lot of you for supporting this undemocratic move. If Chretien had done this back in 2003 when eh introduced these reforms, you guys would be apoplectic about how terribly unfair it was. But as long as the CPC does it, its just fine.

    How utterly mean-spirited and hypocritical.

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