Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Buying votes

In the upcoming budget the Conservative party is set to eliminate the vote subsidy for political parties in Canada. The subsidy was introduced 7 years ago to take the place of union and corporate donations that were banned at the same time.  The idea is that each party which gets at least 2% of the vote gets $2 for every vote they get in a federal election.  The subsidy is being eliminated with the ostensible reasoning of 'stop voters paying for parties they don't support' but there is almost certainly a much more sinister motive behind it.

The big advantage of having the political parties be supported by the populace in an equitable fashion is that a party does not have to win the support of the rich in order to garner sufficient funds to run a campaign.  A party that absolutely has to get a huge number of large donations to survive must tailor its policies to achieve that and must spend much of its time and energy focusing on acquiring money instead of figuring out how to run the country.  Obviously this is an expense that many people feel unhappy about but it should be contrasted to the other expenditures involved in running the country to illuminate how little money it is.  Political parties in the last election got roughly $30 million dollars paid out to them based on this subsidy while the total cost of the election was in the ballpark of $300 million.  A lot of money either way but I think it is easy to support increasing the cost of the election by 10% to make sure that the parties involved can make their priority getting votes instead of entertaining or appeasing the wealthy.

The conspiracy theory that gets thrown around is that the Conservatives are putting this measure forward to choke the fundraising potential of their competitors.  No one denies that the Conservatives are in much better fiscal shape than the other parties in Canada (who are pretty much bankrupt as I understand it) but the reasons for it are a matter of some debate.  Conservative boosters tend to argue that the Conservatives just manage their money better but the other side argues that they cheat on donation rules and design policies to benefit the rich and balance their books on large donations from that quarter.  Whether or not the Conservatives are openly pursuing this policy with the goal of removing opposition to their rule is not something I can determine but I am completely certain they are aware that the consequences of this change will be seriously beneficial to them when it comes time to be reelected.  If this new policy would wreck the Conservatives' reelection chances instead of the other way around would they still pursue it?  Hard to say, but I suspect they would not.

What I do wonder is if this will be more destructive to the Liberals and NDP than they want to admit.  Right now we have a Conservative majority largely because of left wing vote splitting.  Back when Canada had two real right wing parties the Liberals ruled on high and now we are seeing the same thing in action the other way around.  When the finances of the NDP and the Liberals are shredded will they end up merging to try to put up some real opposition to the Conservatives?  We are a long way from crunch time right now since there isn't going to be another election for four years but it wouldn't shock me entirely to see that.  Their platforms aren't actually that different and once people inevitably get frustrated with the current government they will swap to whoever is available.  I don't like two party systems but we might be headed that way.


  1. I think it's a sure bet that removing the subsidy is purely and attempt to secure future election wins by hurting the funding of their opponents. It's not a conspiracy theory, its pretty much an accepted fact among political columnists for major newspapers. Their stated reason - to prevent Canadians from funding parties they didn't vote for - is transparently senseless.

  2. Isn't the subsidy directly related to votes received? Isn't that pretty much the definition of a party Canadians voted for?

  3. @Ziggyny, I am pretty sure I don't pay any taxes (Yippee for being poor); so the government will give $2 from someone else's taxes to pay to the political party I voted for.

  4. Actually, the government will give two dollars of public funds to a party you voted for. Because we live in a one citizen, one vote democracy, rather than a one dollar, one vote monetocracy, its your money as much as anyone else's.

    Of course, I'd also like to point out that you pay taxes. Assuming you buy at least $15.38 worth of goods and/or services a year you paid your $2.