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.

Jim Flaherty at the Fraser Institute

Last night, supporters of the Fraser Institute gathered in the Adam hall of the Chateau Laurier to listen to federal finance minister Jim Flaherty deliver an assessment of the Canadian and global economies. On Thursday, the minister will be delivering a sobering fall economic update in the House of Commons and last night, we got a hint of what might be to come.

Flaherty was introduced by former Ontario PC Premier Mike Harris, the finance minister’s former boss and mentor. Harris disappointed the crowd saying that he was not about to return to politics but that a deep-rooted fixation on Canada’s future prosperity is one that both he and Preston Manning hold. Manning and Harris are the authors of Canada: Strong & Free, a six-volume set of books describing Canada’s ideal path along internationalism, economic freedom, federalism, and education among other topics. Last night’s dinner was held to mark the release of their sixth summary volume called Vision.

In minister Flaherty’s speech, he described Canada’s position in a rapid yet sustained decline of the global economy and while trumpeting Canada’s economic leadership among G7 nations, we are simply the country that is sinking the slowest. Indeed, at a recent meeting of the G20 finance ministers, Mr. Flaherty revealed that not one minister was optimistic about their economies domestic or international. Flaherty will project a surplus through the end of this fiscal year ending April 2009, however, as he conceded the next fiscal year will present “a challenge”. The minister sketched a fiscal portrait in broad strokes declaring that the crisis will not end tomorrow, next week or in the next few months and warned that we have not yet seen the worst of the situation.

Yet despite its faltering position, Canada is an economic leader among its economic peers. Flaherty described the economic measures implemented by the federal government to prepare for such an eventuality saying that they’d never apologize or regret cutting the taxes of Canadians or bringing in more stringent regulatory frameworks to maintain Canada’s economic structure. Indeed, the IMF, as Flaherty noted declared Canada to be the best economic shape going into the global economic downturn.

In the United States, President-elect Barack Obama has conceded that he will delay the rollback of the Bush tax-cuts and in Canada, Flaherty suggests that this Conservative government will maintain Canadian tax-cuts to retain this increased spending power among Canadian consumers.

Perhaps the worst-kept secret in Ottawa is that this government will project a deficit in the near future. Flaherty has declared that he will sing from the same songsheet as other national government and use the federal treasury to stimulate growth, or rather stem the “negative growth”. For this, infrastructure minister John Baird will become a hero of sorts in Ontario as federal dollars are channeled through on road, rail and other contruction projects sustaining jobs. Prime Minister Harper days earlier declared that some deficits provide opportunity and are necessary. Flaherty promised that the stimulus would be underway by March 2009. The pairing of the temporary and artificial sustenance of Canadian jobs via government spending with the consumer spending power of a less-tax-burdened population may help the good ship Canada weather the global economic storm until it subsides. Or at least the theory goes.

Deficit spending will be accomplished in order to sustain the “real” economy. Flaherty promised no ‘structural’ deficit.

For my part I asked the minister during the dinner about conservative opportunity describing this as a time when Conservatives in power could be allowed to make cuts to government spending and suggested that a reduction in the size of government rather than its growth would help balance the books in a real rather than artificial way. The finance minister unfortunately balked at the question suggesting that some areas of growth are necessary such as the rescue of the state of the armed forces. If given a follow-up, I would have suggested that some cuts are necessary too. Even in a recession, the government is a growth industry. The minister described a treasury board review of all programs to measure value for money and promised to extend this review through both core and non-core assets.

As for the public sector, wages will not increase faster than the private sector. This has caused some concern among public sector employees and the minister reached a deal with PSAC, it’s largest union late yesterday. The two parties have settled on a wage increase of 6.8% over the next four years.

On interprovincial trade barriers, the minister promised to break these down and suggested that the current economic climate behooves governments to allow uninhibited trade within Canada. The minister welcomed a cooperative spirit among provincial and territorial ministers on addresses the economic downturn domestically.

The minister declared that the government would not artificially engineer a surplus. Perhaps this is a reflection by the minister on Paul Martin’s method of balancing budgets by slashing transfers to the provinces and “fixing” healthcare for a generation. Ontario has warned Ottawa not to balance its books on the back of the province and what is needed is economic stimulus in the province through reduction of its corporate tax rate. For the part of the Conservative federal government, Flaherty described a $37B debt reduction, a reduction of the tax burden by $200B and a 2012 projected corporate tax rate of 15%.

On securities regulations, the minister promised the creation of a single national securities regulator. The federal government will seek to regulate leverage and large pools of capital. A more transparent market infrastructure is needed according to Mr. Flaherty.

The sum of Flaherty’s speech was to say that this government is acting to sustain economic activity for the foreseeable future as economies around the world reconfigure to recover. Taxes will remain low, spending is temporary and a deficit would be a temporary and an short aberration from Canada’s economic plan.

Obama sets example for Canada

The election of Barack Obama is historic in many ways, most significantly in the progression along the troubled history of race in the United States. On Tuesday, Americans turned out in record numbers to give Obama a decisive win and vault the first African-American into the highest office in that country. The Obama team also set new records along the fundraising front and may indeed set a precedent for the financing of elections in the future.

According to opensecrets.org, a website on money in politics run by the Centre for Responsive Politics, Senator Obama raised $639 million during the 2008 Presidential election cycle with 91% of that sum coming from individual donations. Comparatively, Senator McCain raised $360 million, 54% coming from the same type; the majority of the dollars from each candidate’s campaign came from people making personal donations to their favourite candidate. A striking difference between campaigns was Obama’s refusal of public funding. The Illinois senator took $0 of public financing while his Republican counterpart from Arizona took over $84 million to make up 23% of his campaign’s spending power.

We didn’t start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington – it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.

It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory. — President-elect Barack Obama, Chicago November 4th, 2008

In Canada, the Reform Party under Preston Manning started a tradition of passing the hat in church basements and legion halls during rallies, speeches or simple administrative meetings. A donation of $5, $20 or $100 was passed on to bring change to Ottawa. The tradition continues today under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, though in a much more sophisticated way and one that is buoyed by databases and telemarketing. Conservatives have historically raised an average individual donation of about $100 while Liberals used to depend on fewer but larger sums. Jean Chretien –perhaps to kneecap his long-coveting Prime Ministerial successor — changed the way election financing was done in Canada by banning corporate and union donations. Chretien replaced the private financing of political parties by special interests with public financing by government. For each vote that a party earns during an election, that party receives $1.75 per year from the federal treasury.

On the surface, this reconfiguration of campaign financing seems to rebalance the funding equation from powerful institutions to those that ought to have the first and last word in any democracy. Indeed, voters are empowered not only when they give campaigns their vote but also when they do so with the knowledge that instead of corporate or union backing, there is a small financial sum that comes with each ballot cast that sustains parties instead. However, while Chretien’s system solves one problem, it creates another.

In Quebec where a province defaults to the inert rather than the principled, a problem exists with Chretien’s model of campaign financing. The Bloc Quebecois, doing all it could to supress its core principle of sovereignty for that province, rather stood against — indeed, as a block to — Conservative ideas in the 2008 general election and against Liberal corruption in 2006. In the first half of this year, the Bloc raised just over $70,000 but received $1.5 million in public financing. Donations are a result of direct support whereas that larger windfall comes from standing against something rather than offering something better. The Bloc Quebecois would not exist if it had to rely upon direct non-governmental financing from supporters.

This summer, I met a member of the Obama campaign’s senior staff in New York City. Discussing the presidential campaign and some Canadian politics, I was told that the Liberal Party had approached the Obama campaign to attain some insight into their fundraising capacity and to create a similar system in Canada so that a large number of small donors could fill their campaign war chest. The staffer told me that after initial discussions, the Liberal Party never followed up in any significant way.

A tried-and-true election strategy for the Liberal Party has been to strike fear into the electorate about what a Conservative administration might mean for Canada. In the last election we were warned that a Conservative majority would allow Harper to finally implement his hidden agenda. Yet the Conservatives in power have not been innocent of taking this lower path either. Defining Stephane Dion as a weak leader and scaring the electorate as to what his “tax on everything” would mean to the economy took a negative track and suggested people vote against, rather than for the Conservatives. People are goaded out of fear to vote against and they often hold their nose for the not-as-offensive choice they end up “supporting”. Since money comes from support, we should break the model that rewards false support and strengthen one that challenges parties to offer ideas rather than fear. Government subsidization of political parties hurts Canadian politics.

The motto of Barack Obama’s campaign for President was “Yes We Can”. Under the current Canadian system, we give welfare to parties for being best able to convince Canadians of the other parties, “No They Can’t”. If we made politics about the positive (Yes), responsibility of self (We) and enablement (Can) rather than the negative (No), what one’s opponent would do (They) and a need to stop them (Can’t), perhaps we could reduce voter apathy both at the ballot box and when parties pass the hat. If we gave voters more power to finance those they support rather than sustain those they least detest we could shift Canadian politics for the better.

On Tuesday, American politics changed. It is time to end campaign welfare so that we can replace politics that scares with that which inspires.

Yes we can.

US Election 2008: Live results


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11:00pm: CNN declares Barack Obama President-elect
10:01pm: Democrats are +4 in the senate.
10:00pm: stephentaylor.ca decision desk calls the presidency for Obama, even before the California polls close and lucrative pharmaceutical ads run.
9:58pm: FNC projects TX, UT for McCain. Obama projected to win IA.
9:51pm: Why so slow on projecting Obama as President? It’s over.
9:46pm: CNN projects NM for Obama.
9:33pm: CNN projects OH for Obama.
9:22pm: CNN projects WV for McCain.
9:18pm: CNN projects McConnell (R-Sen) winning in KY.
9:11pm: Levin (D-Sen) wins MI.
9:10pm: CNN has better exit poll data than FNC.
9:09pm: Johnson (D-Sen) wins SD.
9:08pm: Inhofe (R-Sen) wins OK.
9:08pm: Barrasso (R-Sen) wins WY.
9:01pm: FNC projects ID KS, ND, WY for McCain.
9:00pm: FNC projects MI, MN, NY, NM, RI, WI for Obama.
9:00pm: Polls in central US close. CNN projects RI, NY, WI, MI, MN, NY for Obama, WY and ND for McCain.
8:56pm: CNN projects AL for McCain.
8:50pm: Obama at 71% in OH.
8:45pm: US House of Representative so far +1 for the Democrats.
8:42pm: Mark Pryor (D-Sen) wins AR.
8:30pm: FNC projects GA for McCain.
8:38pm: CNN late to the show and projects PA for Obama.
8:35pm: Frank Lautenberg (D-Sen) wins in NJ.
8:34pm: Susan Collins (R-Sen) wins in ME.
8:32pm: John Kerry (D-Sen) wins in MA.
8:32pm: Dick Durban (D-Sen) wins in IL.
8:31pm: Jay Rockefeller (D-Sen) wins in WV.
8:31pm: Lamar Alexander (R-Sen) wins in TN.
8:28pm: CNN calls NH for Obama.
8:17pm: Obama leads by 250k in FL with 30% reporting
8:16pm: Correction… Dole (R) loses in NC.
8:12pm: NBC, ABC call PA for Obama.
8:02pm: CNN describes african-americans as a stronger voting block for Obama than registered Democrats.
8:00pm: McCain gets OK and TN. Obama gets MN, DC, IL, MD, CT, DE, MA, and NJ.
8:00pm: CNN projects fresh round of states 8-2 Obama-McCain.
7:55pm: CNN calls SC for McCain (44%-55% Obama?!)
7:34pm: Dole (R) re-elected in NC.
7:32pm: FNC calls Daniels (R) re-elected in IN.
7:28pm: Georgia leads for McCain. He should take it. 1,650 votes reported with McCain at 71%. 2.41% MoE, 19/20 (if the sample was representative, which it is not!)
7:24pm: McCain will take IN.
7:17pm: McCain leads in FL 54-46.
7:14pm: Star Wars hologram on CNN. WTF? (CNN title: “CNN’s Jessica Yellin via Hollogram from Chicago”)
7:12pm: McCain leads in VA.
7:10pm: So far GOP (-1) in the Senate.
7:08pm: FNC calls Linsey Graham (R) for Senate in SC.
7:08pm: FNC calls Mark Warner (D) for Senate in VA.
7:07pm: FNC calls Vermont for Obama.
7:04pm: McCain leads Indiana. Indiana hasn’t gone Democrat since LBJ.
7pm: CNN calls Kentucky
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US Election 2008: Linkstream

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Electoral College: Data from electoral-vote.com: Obama 353 | McCain 174 | Tied 11
Candidates vote: Palin, Obama, McCain, Biden
Electoral College: Prediction from fivethirtyeight.com: Obama 348.6 | McCain 189.4
Voting problems: Twitter Vote Report
Get out the vote: Voter turnout above 60% a safe bet?
Voter Intimidation: Black Panthers brandish nightstick outside of polling station in PA (FNC followup)
Get out the vote: Freebies a ploy to get out Democrats?: Bush/Cheney webmaster
Get out the vote: Free Starbucks, Free McDonalds, Free Krispy Kreme, Free Ben&Jerrys for voting
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Obama takes early lead

…and a very small lead at that. In the county of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire polls open on election day at midnight and close one minute later. This year, 21 eligable voters of the 75 person county showed up to cast their ballots and Obama leads with 15 votes to 6 for John McCain. Voter turnout for the county was 100%.

The county however usually has a Republican bias. The people of Dixville Notch picked Republicans in 2004, 2000, 1996, 1992, 1988, 1984, 1980, 1976, and 1972.

Of course, the county is not a representative sample but shows some early good news for Barack Obama.


View Larger Map

Election swag: The NOPE t-shirt

During the election campaign, I mocked up a Canadian version of the famous Obama poster in Adobe Illustrator:

and my friend Chris and I put them on some t-shirts for a laugh. There have been many spoofs of the Obama poster, here’s the Canadian version.

The shirts were featured in the special election issue of Macleans, the Hill Times and Embassy. A lot of people have been asking us if we have any more of them. We printed up a bunch of them to keep costs low and we have a few left hanging around.

I hear that one of the most popular uses of this internet fad is to sell t-shirts so since we still have a handful left, I thought I’d give it a shot.

The shirts are $20 each (+$3 shipping)

Buy a NOPE t-shirt (small)


Buy a NOPE t-shirt (medium)


Buy a NOPE t-shirt (large)


So, if you want a souvenir of the election, are a Conservative, Dipper or post-election Liberal who wants a shirt, hit a paypal button above (if you don’t have a paypal account, don’t worry. You can click the “Continue” link on the left-hand side of the paypal page to pay by credit card). Oh, and if you’re the special type who wants a bunch of them, send me an email

twitter releases govtweets.com clone

Today, twitter released its own version of a website I developed in the summer and launched about a month ago.

Twitter Election 2008, like its predecessor called govtweets.com that I coded, aggregates twitter mentions of John McCain, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin in real-time as a constant stream of data updated using asynchronous javascript and xml (AJAX).

I contacted some of the folks at twitter about my idea on July 22 when I was developing the website. The release of their version of the idea today is nicely designed and I’m flattered that they’ve released it to a wider audience. When a big player like twitter validates your proof of concept, you say thanks! So a big thank you to twitter!

Of course, for your Canadian fix you can check out govtweets.ca. Twitter has yet to touch the Canadian election in an official way. I hope they do soon.

govtweets update

Both govtweets.com and govtweets.ca are humming along nicely as the websites track the real-time online conversation via twitter on the POTUS race and the Canadian federal election. Here are some stats I just compiled from the levels of activity on the both govtweets.ca and govtweets.com:

In the past 8 days on govtweets.ca, there have been 303 tweets about Stephen Harper, and 120 about Jack Layton and 92 about Stephane Dion.

Comparatively, in the last 8 days at govtweets.com, there have been 24838 tweets about “Palin”, 22869 tweets about “Obama”, 20671 tweets about “McCain” and 4051 about “Biden”.

Conclusions that we can draw from this are that McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin for VP has generated much more chatter than Obama’s pick Joe Biden. Further, we can see that American politics is much more discussed globally than Canadian politics. But, I think we can also conclude that Canadians are still in the early stages of posting tweets.

And… for those of you who are wondering, I’ll be adding Elizabeth May to govtweets.ca soon.