North America Canadian Democracy Diminished
The Current Canadian Prime Minister, Steven Harper, announced in his recently updated Canadian budget of 2011 that, ‘The Government is announcing the phase-out of quarterly allowances for political parties’. This will effectively cut off public funding for all political parties, a funding supplement which counts for approximately half of all campaign expenditures and more importantly is part of a system designed to create transparency and fair competition in elections.
This new development is a regressive step in a dangerous direction for the historically moderate, self correcting, and democratic Canadian political system. A system which depends on fail safe and transparency systems such as those enshrined the in the quarterly party funding allowances.
Financing Political Parties
The funding structure for registered political parties in Canada can be broadly explained as two tiered; registered political parties in Canada are funded firstly through limited donations by individual Canadian citizens, and secondly through an approximate 2 dollar per vote publicly subsidised quarterly pay out, set on a percentage per-vote system. Furthermore there are various tax refunds for party expenditures but these do not represent new income.
Personal contributions paid out by Canadian citizens are currently limited to the amount of 1100 Canadian dollars per year. Unions, companies, and any foreign actors are not allowed to donate directly to any party or candidate. Public subsidisation of political parties hinges on the number of votes secured in the previous election granted that this number exceeds 2% of votes nationally or 5% of popular vote in each riding contested.
This is all restricted by an expenditure limit placed on each registered political party; these limits are calculated in relation to the amount of ridings a party will contest and the amount of voters in those ridings. A party will have limits on the scope of their election budget. Thus if a party has a candidate in every riding they will have a much higher ceiling.
For instance, in the last election of 2011 the Conservative Party of Canada had an allowable spending limit of just short of 21 million dollars, the Green Party 20 million dollars, while the Bloc Québécois had just over 5.3 million. Actual expenditures, however, were much more varied; while the Conservative Party was able to spend just short of 20 million, the Green Party, being much smaller, spent a pithy 2.8 million of their 20 million allowable – the Greens, of course simply did not have the means.
It is no secret that the Conservative Party has the most well established and religiously loyal fundraising basis in Canada; last year donations reached 17 million dollars provided by some 95000 electors. This amount is still greater than the combined donations of all the other political parties in Canada combined. Furthermore these numbers do not represent the per-vote public subsidy which Harper has indicated is to be phased out.
Considering that total expenditures of the Conservative Party reached nearly 20 million in the 2011 election, and that only one year of donations was nearly enough to cover this entire amount, Harper’s Conservatives have every reason to remove the subsidy, they simply don’t need their quarterly allotment of 2.6 million.
For the Green Party on the other hand, their vote-based quarterly allowance represents about half of their 2.8 million spent on the election campaign. The loss of which would force the cancellation of the most important advertising aspect of any campaign, television and radio adverts. The loss of which essentially prices Green Party politics out of the democratic market.
The Greens are not alone, the same hold true with the Liberal Party, historically a major player in Canadian politics losing approximately half of its necessary income, not to mention the newly powerful New Democrats also losing well over half. This will leave essentially one party with enough money to run an effective campaign across Canada.
Partial public financing and the expenditure ceiling were first cognised in the Canadian Elections Expenses Act; two goals of which were to increase public confidence in elections through transparency and to promote fair competition in elections by limiting financial dominance of any one party.
Harper’s intended ‘phase-out of quarterly allowances for political parties’ is a mendacious move to cut the financial legs out from under every political party in Canada for the sole purpose of institutionalizing a dominant position. This is an obvious regression to the less transparent pre-Elections Expenses Act days, all under the guise of saving the tax payer money. Political maneuvering, even seemingly underhanded dealing may be a part of politics in general; Harper however is over-extending his absurd carnal instinct to destroy his opponents by crippling a vibrant multi party democratic system with blatant disregard.
Harper currently rides high on his solid base of stoic financial supporters; a wide base of citizens, many of them wealthy and religious; there is the indication, however, of an enormous polarization specifically against him. This I would argue represents the shock of many Canadians over the nonchalant attitude in which Harper has been dealing with Canadian political institutions.
The Conservatives seem happy to kill off options for democratic representation even at the expense of their own party; whether you support Conservatives, Liberals, or the even the Marxist Leninist Party, the characteristics that set the Canadian political system apart from many other struggling systems, from America to the Netherlands, is its ability to represent a wide set of views in a centrally balanced and self correcting way. Unfortunately it is a reality that a financially dominant party will likely lead to dominant party, if this is because of voter preference then democracy is working, if it is due to monitory assassinations we have regressed and face dangers of polarization, populism and loss of freedom of speech.
MSN News: Federal Elections 2011
The Globe and Mail: Harper says he’ll scrap per vote subsidy
Government of Canada: Budget
Institute for Research on Public Policy
Parliament of Canada: Legislative Summaries