On iPOLITICS insight this morning, I saw an opinion piece by professor of Law at the University of Ottawa, Errol Mendes, Harper aims to financially suffocate opposition parties. I would have thought a university professor would have had a more balanced view of the change in how federal parties receive public funding.
The professor uses supercharged terms and phrases like “stealth democracy” and “one of the most damaging attacks on Canadian democracy” to describe our Prime Minister’s follow-through on his election promise to phase out the federal per-vote subsidy over about three years. Or, as Prof. Mendes puts it, “… he [PM Harper] has used his majority muscle to initiate the slow elimination of the public subsidy of political parties”
In a display of twisted logic, we’re told:
“It must not be forgotten that the merged Reform and Conservative Parties built up their huge election war chest through high numbers of individual contributions over a much longer period than just two years.”
So what? Were the other parties asleep during that time? How has the Conservative party gained an unfair advantage over its opposition because it had members who believed enough in its message to contribute to it financially?
Here are some salient points not made by the professor.
To start with, the Conservatives made it very clear in the last election campaign that they would end the per-vote subsidy by phasing it out. So how could any reasonable person see this as “stealth democracy.” Far from being done with “stealth,” it is being done with a clear mandate for the people of Canada who endorsed the proposed initiative and the Tories last May.
From late 2008 all opposition parties have know—or should have known—the Tories would end the per-vote subsidy. They said they would do it in a fiscal update tabled in the Commons in November 2008. So, by the time the phasing out ends in 2014, all federal parties will have had between five and six years to get their financial houses in order.
Parties have had equal opportunity to obtain members and to solicit funds from them. The New Democrats, for example, have the entire Canadian trade union movement supporting them. Unionized public sector and auto-industry workers, for example, have significant levels of disposable income and can easily afford to make additional tax-deductible donations to that party—only pennies a day from each one would more than cover the NDP’s shortfall caused by the loss of the per-vote subsidy.
As to the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois, their massive loss of voters in the last election had by far the most damaging effect on their future finances. Even had the vote-subsidy remained in place, the Bloc Québécois would have seen their funding take an enormous hit, what with the loss of number of votes used in the calculation of the subsidy and the loss of official party status in the House of Commons, significantly reducing their money for research and staff.
Moreover, the Liberals have been the governing party for more years than any of the others and had as much opportunity as the Tories—some will claim they, as the government in power, had far more—to build up their war chest through individual contributions. That they chose not to do so is no one’s fault but their own. And their supporters should not be whining about that failure now, and pretending they have somehow been victims of unfair Tory practices.
The Green Party ran a full set of candidates in several recent elections, and in the last election it managed to garner less than four per cent of the national vote and elect only a single member. Since their founding in the early 1980s, they have set Canadian records for futility at the polls. And during the Green Party’s almost 30 years of existence, the Reform Party was founded from scratch; gained status as the official opposition; out-grew the entrenched Progressive Conservatives before later absorbing them; and formed the government of Canada after each of the last three general elections.
Given their show of ineptness, how does it help Canadian democracy to have a Green Party? Why should its repeated failure be rewarded by taxpayers? If Greens want to indulge themselves in such futility, let their own members pay their way. One might conclude it is access to the public subsidy that has made the Greens so fat and complacent that they have become the party that can’t.
Finally, federal parties have only to collect $2.00 a year from each of their voters—about $0.55 a day—to make up the loss of the subsidy. Should political parties that cannot attract a critical mass of paying members and supporters be kept on financial life-support by the general public? I say, no, they should be allowed to wither on the political vine.