No surprise that, if elected, a Harper majority government would move to eliminate the per vote subsidy for political parties.
Is it a bad thing? Well, I’m of two minds about this.
As we know, Jean Chrétien scrapped the old system of largesse from special interests, barring huge contributions from corporations and unions, and replaced it with one that allowed individual contributions capped at a certain level to be made to parties, supplemented by a public subsidy to parties on a per vote basis.
Now though, Harper wants to hack off the public subsidy portion of this arrangement. Why? Well, obviously because the Conservative Party has proven itself to be much more adept at shaking down individual voters for contributions through a sophisticated combination of high-tech outreach and old-fashioned scare-mongering of their perpetually frightened, and easily deceived base of faithful donors.
The argument Harper makes that taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize political parties sounds reasonable on its face. After all, it seems only fair that political parties should stand or fall on their ability to attract support through their own grassroots fundraising efforts. At the same time, there’s something to be said for direct public financing of political parties on a democratic basis that is doled out by the government on a per vote basis according to the level of popular support they receive at the polls. When doing so, voters are not only casting their ballot, but also intentionally making a donation via their taxes in support of their candidate/party of choice.
Here’s the bottom line: Considering that political donors presently gain a commensurate tax credit by doing so, then aren’t other taxpayers essentially having to foot the bill in part for the lost tax revenue that would otherwise have been paid into the treasury? If donations remain tax deductible, then millions of taxpayers are still helping bankroll parties they don’t support, albeit in a more indirect way. Therefore, if Stephen Harper truly wants to eliminate the government from involvement of any kind in the fundraising of political parties then he must also commit to eliminating the tax deduction for contributions.