Elimination of Per Vote Subsidies

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.

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40 Comments

Filed under 2011 Canadian Election, Conservative Party of Canada, Stephen Harper

40 responses to “Elimination of Per Vote Subsidies

  1. Tomm

    The government should not directly be giving money to some political party just because I happened to vote for their rep during an election.
    Harper’s rationale is reasonable.

    “…money should come from the voters, not corporations, not governments…”

    It does not make sense to just give the BQ or the Green’s, or any party a pile of money based on the votes they got. It is especially unfair as the rich get the most and the poorest get nothing, since there is a means test and a bar that has to be jumped just to qualify for the government windfall.

  2. Sorry Tomm, but the “government” is YOU. And if YOU vote for a party, YOU have a right to instruct that a donation be made to your party of choice. It’s really just as simple as that.

    I know that “conservatives” think the “government” is some weird, fascistic, nether thing that comes from an alien planet, but in essence, at least from a political standpoint, it’s really just the collective will of the people.

    Your contention that money shouldn’t be directed to a party “because I happened to vote for their rep” is absurd. You make it sound like voting is an accident. I just HAPPENED to vote for X.

  3. Although I don’t like reading the Toronto Sun, Warren Kinsella has a commentary about what Harper would do with a majority government: no abortion, no same-sex marriage, no gun control, yes to the death penalty.

    If it does look like Harper may get his majority in the last week or two of the campaign, the opposition needs to inform Canadians strongly what Harper would do with his majority. That includes getting rid of the vote subsidy, but not the tax credit for donations to a political party.

  4. SD: Unfortunately, I think most Canadians have been lulled into complacency with respect to what a Harper majority government would do to this country. As the man once famously said: “When I am through with Canada, you won’t recognize it” With a majority in the HOC and a Senate now stacked with his cronies, there’s a whole lot of damage that could be done in the course of 4-5 years…

  5. Comparing the per-vote subsidy with tax credits for donations shows how the voice of the rich and poor are different.

    If you can’t afford donations to the party of your choice, then the gov’t will give $2 by your vote.

    If you can afford the maximum $1,100 donation, the gov’t will credit you over $550 (more than half).

    Favouring the rich by a ratio of 550:2 is a pretty big disparity.

  6. Of course, eliminating the subsidy would make that ratio 550:0, a number not definable by mathematics.

  7. MC

    You’re forgetting one other dimension.

    There are many who vote, but do not pay (income) taxes. So their $2 is being subsidised as well.

    I’m for no tax deductions for contributions and no public money to subsidize political parties either. There is not a soul in Canada who can’t afford to donate $2 to the party of their choice every election cycle.

  8. MC: As you well know, income taxes are just one aspect of the government’s revenue stream. Every working Canadian is subject to payroll deductions. Not to mention other consumption taxes everybody pays such as the GST and the more insidious excise tariffs that are discretely factored into any number of goods.

    But yes, if there were no deductions provided for political contributions then I would be okay with that.

  9. I completely disagree with the idea of getting rid of the per vote subsidy due to the way that political election campaigns are run. Grassroots fundraising is not okay if it translates to country-wide marketing campaigns that spread misinformation at best and lies at worst. If Party A raises money from 20% of the population and Party B raises from 5% of the population, who’s message gets out the most? And if the money allows for misinformation that is used to convince larger portions of the population, where is the democracy in that? It’s the policies that should persuade voters.

    Grassroots fundraising marginalizes young voters, the unemployed, poor people, and basically any demographic that doesn’t have several hundred extra $$ kicking around. Libertarians, who seem to be mad as hell at the world around them, appear to be particularly over-represented in grassroots fundraising.

    I wish that political parties each had a set budget to work with, so elections are not about money but about policy.

  10. Doug: How political parties spend their money is entirely up to them. If they choose to funnel it into negative attack ads and malicious propaganda, well… so be it. It may seem unfair to you that the party raising the most money can attempt to sway the electorate through misinformation in this way, but hey… that’s politics. If people don’t like the message being conveyed, they have the option express their displeasure by not voting for them.

    If Party A raises money from 20% of the population and Party B raises from 5% of the population, who’s message gets out the most?

    I presume you meant to point out the unfair disparity that may result from a scenario whereby “Party B” raises a whole lot of money from a small percentage of the population, as opposed to “Party A” that raises not so much money from a larger percentage of the population and the message of “Party B” will overwhelm that of “Party A” even though it only represents a relatively small segment of the electorate.

    It would be a reasonable concern if that corresponded to the facts. But unfortunately, it doesn’t. Currently, “Party B” has more donors than “Party A” and they tend to contribute larger amounts on a more frequent basis. “Party A” (and C, D, etc.) need to get their asses into gear and become more effective when it comes to raising funds…

    And yes, elections should be all about policy, but that’s just not realistic. Policy is BORING and nobody pays any attention to it… or precious little, at least. Besides, we’re all so cynical about the way the game works that almost everyone knows party platform planks are made of balsa wood, so elections are decided on other more nebulous emotional factors. Which brings us back to the negative attack ads and malicious propaganda…

  11. Tomm

    Skinny Dipper,

    Here you are pounding the drum of a “hidden agenda” that was given to you from Warren Kinsella. Do you see anything wrong with that picture?

    RT, the biggest problem with the per vote subsidy is the support this provides for those that just want to erode respect for those that govern us. They don’t need to solicit paying support, but instead use the money to underwrite constant attacks on the government providing the money. How rich is our country when we are willing to pay those to hollow it out.

  12. CWTF

    Once again Tomm the clueless chimes in…

    I’m sorry I had to choke a little when you wrote: “the biggest problem with the per vote subsidy is the support this provides for those that just want to erode respect for those that govern us.” – So you agree that Harper should be ousted from power then?

    If we read the likes of Gerry N. and such we should have US style financing where corporation would buy our elected officials…

  13. Tomm

    CWTF,

    I was thinking more of the Bloc.

    Pray tell, what is it Harper is doing to erode support for those that govern us? Please put your answer through a filter that separates it from making the same point with respect to Ignatieff, Dion, Martin, or Layton. That will save me the time of doing it myself.

  14. Habitual

    The per-vote subsidy is the most equitable form of party financing in my opinion as it doesn’t play into demographics as much as donations do. If Harper wan’ts to save the country some money, the tax deductions should go first as they are far less equitable than a per-vote subsidy. In a way, the subsidy rectifies some of the problems with a first-past-the-post voting system.

    Some have argued that removing the subsidy will in a way cripple the BQ. Really? The BQ seemed to be doing fine before the introduction of the subsidy. The party it will hurt the most is the Greens, as they borrow against the subsidy to finance their elections.

    If Harper intends to remove the subsidy, then it needs to be introduced alongside democratic reform legislation that promotes greater equity and not in a budget.

    I don’t wan’t my taxes going to a political party is a poor and hollow argument, until other measures can be adopted so that the power of a party’s ideas are not defined by their ability to finance them. If there was greater equity in the party system, then by all means remove the subsidy, but at the moment there isn’t.

  15. Tomm

    Habitual,

    Should there be a means test?

    Parties that get 10,000 votes. Should they get their money each year too or just the biggest parties?

  16. phil

    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.

    Contrary to conservative bleating, the right loves big government involvement, as long as conservatives have their faces in the trough.
    They only want to eliminate programs and spending that benefit groups that they don’t like. Harper’s stance on the per vote issue is as typically hypocritical as it gets.

  17. Tomm — Your logic really doesn’t stand up here and neither does that of Harper.

    Who exactly does the per vote “subsidy” (and as you can tell, I don’t particularly like that term) harm?

    Unlike most government expenditures, it’s money that voters actually direct to a cause they support. What on earth could be wrong with that?

  18. Habitual

    @Tomm

    I’m not exactly sure what you are getting at.

    There is already as means test in place last I checked.

    The parties get the subsidy if they have either 2 per cent of the vote nationally or 5 per cent of the vote in electoral district.

    I realize this cutoff is somewhat undemocratic and against my argument that there needs to be more equity in the system (if that is what you are implying), but we do have to draw the line somewhere, do we not?

  19. Tomm

    RT,

    You’ve known me long enought o recognize that I’ve consistently come down on the side of tax payers money not being used for political activism. Whether that is the Gay Pride Parade, NACSW, or the Court Challenges Program. This is a similar issue. If people want to support political work they can roll up their sleaves (if poor or rich) or stick their own money into the kitty.

    Grass roots politics is a solution. Cynically dumping tax payers money into political machines, not so much.

  20. Gayle

    “The government should not directly be giving money to some political party…”

    But indirectly giving money is OK?

    The CPC are the big winners with tax write offs because their supporters donate an average of $100 (or so) per person. With a $100 donation the tax credit is $75. The more you donate the lower the tax credit.

    Nor can it be said that capping donations prevents special interests from influencing government. I am pretty darn sure the gun owners are donating for Harper.

    If Harper were serious about reducing party reliance on tax dollars he would eliminate the tax write off instead. The fair and balanced approach is to retain the per vote subsidy.

  21. Tomm

    Habitual,

    Means test? Do we? What is the point of the means line? To ensure support for bigger, older, and better oiled political machines then the littler, newer ones?

    If we moved to an alternative voting system, how fair does the means test become?

    Why should the Conservative Party of Canada get $1/vote each year for every vote it got in the preceding election? But, if they were to, why shouldn’t the Pirate Party or the Libertarian Party also get that money? Why should the Green Party get money? They get media time where the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party doesn’t. So they have a huge national advantage that maintains voter interest and their status.

    Accordng to Elections Canada there are 18 registerd federal parties. Why don’t they all qualify? Of course, I’m saying we just get rid of the subsidy, but if we don’t, perhaps we should open it up to all 18.

  22. Red, I mostly agree with everything that you wrote. Certainly some of what I wrote is a wish and not realistic.

    I still think that the per vote subsidy helps with representing marginalized groups that can’t afford to donate (which is not an insignificant portion of society). I don’t mean to be a bleeding heart – but I think the logic is sound.

    Your point about politics being boring and the public’s cynicism is interesting, as I think the Greens deserve the least cynicism and I think (not sure) they benefit the most from the subsidy. Of course, if the Greens were vaulted into a significant position in Parliament perhaps they would become worthy of equal cynicism!

    Well, to be honest I think elections are more related to discrepant events and a larger cognitive change. Whatever government we have right now will be maintained despite money, ads and subsidy, until such time that a big event (or group of events) causes a shift in thinking. This is how the Cons got in power. The democracy angle perhaps could have worked for the Liberals, but democracy is pretty boring, especially when you are cynical of the institution.

  23. Tomm

    Gayle,

    I support that too. Why don’t you support a CPC majority government (because that is what it would take) and I promise to work with you to lobby that government to get rid of that subsidy as well.

    See how agreeable I am!

  24. Gayle

    Ha ha Tomm

    There is no chance the CPC will ever get rid of the tax write off instead of the per vote subsidy. Though it is true that Harper will always promise one thing and do another, so maybe…

  25. Tomm: I really think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick here when it comes to the per vote stipend (let’s call it a “stipend” shall we, rather than a subsidy).

    Again, this is money that taxpayers directly channel by way of their vote to their party of choice.

    It shouldn’t be confused with money that’s gifted to various groups (that you may well describe as “political activists”) through some well-meaning bureaucratic process or by self-serving politicians looking to channel money into favoured groups.

    How you could conflate the two things is completely beyond me.

  26. CWTF

    <>
    Of course you were thinking of the Bloc, who just happened to be democratically elected.
    Just because you don’t agree with one of their goals means that you and your thugs-minded friends would like to nullify them and by proxy every one in Quebec that voted for them.

    <>
    I have no qualms about giving CPC a majority IF they actually had a leader that was an abject failure as PM…
    Harper has been a disaster for Canada. Surprisingly, I have some respect for Iggy during this campaign… go figure…
    As for Harper, even less…

    Again, Tomm, you are being rather simplistic… but then again, Conservatives are not known for coherence or critical and logical thinking.

    Hey, I’ve heard that the price of those planes that Harper likes did not include the engine…. so you think that Peter M. will supply an audio recording of him doing some whoooshhh sounds to accompany planes parked on the tarmac…

  27. Doug: I’m sensitive to how the changes Harper proposes to make will affect the Green Party probably most severely. At the same time, I’m hopeful that if it comes to that, they will rise to the challenge in order to remain a viable alternative voice in Canadian politics. Perhaps if the pay per vote scheme was eliminated they would, as I believe they should, concentrate their efforts on a select handful of seats, rather than trying to run (often rather dubious candidates) in every single riding across the country.

  28. Tomm: BTW, thanks for that video on AV. Should be interesting to see how the upcoming referendum in Britain turns out.

  29. Tomm

    RT,

    Glad to help.

  30. howard

    Find it difficult to get my head around why it isn’t fair and reasonable for all Canadians to share in the support of the parties who participate in the political process that we all live under and whose MP’s, once elected, serve all constituents in their Riding, not just those who supported the party they represent.

  31. The comment here that really jumps out at me is Tomm @ 7:18. I think the argument is “I don’t want my tax money given to my political enemies (Bloc, et. al.).

    So, if you got rid of the Bloc, would the greens go next? The NDP?

    Ad absurdum this leads to a one-party system – the one that raises funds the best. A free market solution, if you will, where the most successful competitor eventually forms a monopoly.

    I’d prefer a system that tries to limit the power of capital to stifle competition. For example, if the Conservative message is so great, why worry about the Bloc, etc.? Afraid of some competition?

  32. Now that I think about it, it does seem quite a glaring contradiction in the Conservatives that claim to believe in open markets and competition.

    Quiet the CBC! Why should our money be spent on competing messages.

    Harper takes only a limited number of questions (which I believe are pre-screened, not sure). Again, eliminate competing messages.

    Rally attendees screened? Make sure they’re not the competition.

    And the more the Conservatives “follow the money” (to CBC, per-vote, etc.) the more they’re tacitly admitting how important money is, in their opinion.

    Why bother to compete with a better message? Just push ad $$$ into marketing . Send lawyers on the competition. Make fair comparisons difficult or impossible for average voters.

  33. trainman

    One of my few disagreements with the Harper platform, is the elimination of the per vote subsidy, or stipend.

    I agree that this stipend is abused by the bigger parties, knowing that taxpayers will be writing them a cheque at the end of the campaign, and therefore making them less responsible when making decisions about triggering an unnecessary election.

    But I also believe that the stipend is a valuable tool used to supplement the array of voices and choices we have during an election. My best guess is that I will never vote for the Green party, but I am glad that they are in the election and adding to the debate (when they get the chance) because they advocate for a set of issues that might otherwise be ignored.

    I would suggest that the best compromise to (a) avoid larger parties taking taxpayer money they don’t need/deserve it, while (b) maintaining a plethora of political voices, is the following: A party can earn the vote subsidy in order to “subsidize” their party fundraising, but only if they need it. As an example, for those parties that cannot raise a minimum of $2M (or whatever number is required to run a bare bones national campaign) but still generate support of more than 2% or 5% of the votes, they should have their fundraising topped up to the $2M minimum . Those parties that can raise more than $2M don’t get a dime. Sort of like political party welfare.

    Those who suggest canning the tax-credit for political contributions ought to have their head examined. We have a hard enough time getting people involved in politics. Take away the tax-credit and you will hollow out this country’s political involvement. We should be encouraging political involvement, not discouraging it.

  34. tofkw

    trainman, the entire point of eliminating the per-vote-subsidy is for the Harper-Conservatives to cripple the opposition parties. Your argument that this move will stifle democracy by discouraging involvement and alternate voices …is precisely the point why Harper wants to do this.

    By not also eliminating the tax deductions that go along with personal donations, the Harperbots are showing there is no principle involved here. It is purely a partisan kick in the pants.

    It would also eventually backfire, as the Bloc & Greens would be decimated, while the NDP would be deeply marginalized. The likely outcome after a few years would be one centre-left opposition party emerging from the mess, one that would receive the support of nearly 2/3rds of Canadian voters. Actually the Harper-Conservatives should think twice about this if they consider the likely ramifications.

  35. At the risk of sounding like a broken record here (and showing my age by using that metaphor), the “subsidy” (or stipend as I prefer to call it) is money that’s directed by the taxpayer/voter to a very specific and purposeful end.

    It’s quite remarkable really that it’s possibly the only fraction of federal government spending (however infinitesimal it may be) that we actually have any control over. For that reason alone, I think it’s worth preserving.

    If Harper and his cronies are going to begrudge the electorate a few million dollars of direct investment OF THEIR OWN MONEY (chump change in the scheme of things) in the democratic process for the sake of giving HIS party a short-term advantage that will temporarily hobble the opposition and sideline or perhaps even eradicate other voices such as the Greens, then it just confirms what a miserable, Fascistic prick he really is at heart. Presuming, that is, he has one.

  36. I agree with getting rid of the subsidies (stipend as you call it) along with other taxpayer support of donations. Not everyone who votes actually pays taxes, others are forced to make up the shortfall. Parties need to be able to stand on their own donations period. You are relevant or you are not.

  37. sapphireandsteel

    “Not everyone who votes actually pays taxes, ”

    Could you please cite some examples of this? I thought if you bought a lottery ticket at a convenience store you paid sales tax. Could you please tell me where this tax free domain of Canada is?

  38. Brad Dillman

    @sapphireandsteel: I think The Grey Lady was referring to those that offshore and shelter their wealth from taxes.

  39. Heh. This is a lazy trope borrowed from right-wingers south of the border who like to pretend that unless you’re paying taxes on income or capital gains, that you’re getting a free ride at the expense of those in the upper income brackets. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

  40. sapphireandsteel

    Ah Brad, that must be something for the uber-rich.

    I had a tax shelter in the UK when I was there years ago but Blair got rid of it.

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