Sunday, October 15, 2006

Federal Subsidy Available to All Political Parties

Just read via Jim Harris' blog, that there has been a court decision to remove the 2% threshold to receive a federal subsidy for total votes received in a Canadian election. Previously, if a political party received at least 2% of the vote nationally, they would be entitled to a subsidy provided by the Canadian government - $1.75 per vote annually.

While I agree with the fairness of the recent court decision:

On October 12, 2006, Ontario Superior Court Judge Ted Matlow declared as unconstitutional, the 2% threshold in the Canada Elections Act, required to receive the $1.75 per vote per year funding. In the decision, Judge Matlow wrote that the threshold violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The judge ordered the payments retroactive to January 1, 2004 to all parties that had not met the threshold as of January 1, 2004 when the new law took effect.

I ask again, what do political parties do to receive public funds?

According to Judge Matlow [via Jim Harris' blog]:

Providing public funds to parties based on the number of votes received encourages individual voters to participate in elections. Having a threshold for providing electoral finances tells potential voters for candidates of smaller parties that their vote will not result in a subsidy of the parties of their choice. The quality and vigour of Canadian democracy suffers because such a threshold effectively discourages individuals who do not support one of the larger parties from participating in the electoral process.

To Judge Matlow's argument here, I don't think people are voting based upon the fact that the political parties they are voting for are going to receive federal funding. I think it will certainly encourage the faithful base of the smaller parties to continue the fight to a certain point, but I don't think it's going to encourage more broad-based support for the electoral process.

Further [Globe & Mail, Electoral-law edict boosts small parties]:

He said that having an eligibility threshold "perverts" democracy by forcing small parties to make a tactical decision whether to target certain ridings in order to reach the percentage of the total vote they need to trigger the payments.

Which is worse? A political party targeting a riding they have a chance of winning or getting more of a message out, or one that just runs to gain federal funding for a "non-deliverable" political message?

But, I do agree with the fairness of the decision. If Canadian political parties receive a federal subsidy, then all political parties should receive a subsidy regardless of their overall support nationally.

Tracy Parsons, leader of the Progressive Canadian Party, agrees with me [from the same Globe article]:

"We're thrilled," said Tracy Parsons, leader of the Progressive Canadian Party. "Another piece of democracy has been served. I can't say that I'm 100-per-cent in favour of tax dollars being used to fund political parties, but I'm certainly not in favour of them funding only select parties."

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3 comments:

BlastFurnace said...

The UK example you cited is pretty apt; any registered party got at least one free time election broadcast. While Chuck Kennedy's Wolf ad last year for the Liberal Democrats (anything but a fringe party) was by far the best one of the lot, the most original had to be the one for the "Vote for Yourself Rainbow Dream Ticket," with Rainbow Connection playing in the background.

The 2% threshold on the books in Canada came about because of the experience Canadians had during the 1993 election with the Natural Law Party. Under the rules at the time, a party was reimbursed for the mere act of spending money during an election; so what was effectively the political arm of the religious sect Transcendental Meditation received over $3 million dollars of taxpayer money.

And of course, it got free air time even though it didn't have single seat in Parliament. It didn't even get 2/3 of 1 percent of the vote, but it got a lot of publicity. Even Mel Hurtig's National Party got twice that, and he was dismissed as much as Doug Henning (RIP).

I'm not against the idea of public financing per se but there does have to be an expectation that the money will be used to build democracy and suggest policy alternatives, not promote a personal agenda. There should also be a reasonable threshold to receive taxpayer money. 2% may be seen as too high by the courts, but are the courts saying zero is the new target? South of the border, the threshold is much tougher, 5%, and the only ones complaining are those who reach it in one or two election cycles and then miss it by miles the next -- they miss biting the hand that feeds them.

It's one thing to give money to groups that have marketable policies, such as the Progressives Canada. (And I'm saying that as a Liberal). But I'm not sure many Canadians would cotton to the idea of the Marxist Leninists or the Christian Heritage Party getting dough from the people. Of course, we can't be choosers.

So it may make more sense to say a party will get funding if they get not 2% of the national vote but rather an average of 2% of the vote in the seats they contested (since only a few fringe parties, such as the Greens, are able to field a full slate in all 308 districts). This would allow a few more to cross the bar. Along with this should come the one reform that would really give all parties an equal footing: Proportional Representation.

Jim said...

Good comment, Blastfurnace.

I'm still not entirely convinced that political parties should receive funding, but your threshhold suggestion seems reasonable.

I do support Proportional Representation, which might be a better way to ensure smaller parties have access to federal funding. Smaller parties with a reasonable set of policies, would likely elect seats, and would receive funding that way to operate.

I'm concerned that any group, whether I agree with it philosophically or not, would be able to gather federal funds just by declaring themselves a political party.

On the other end, I don't think the big parties - the Conservatives and the Liberals - should be collecting two million dollar quarterly cheques when they clearly have the mechanism to rally support on their own.

bree said...

"it may make more sense to say a party will get funding if they get not 2% of the national vote but rather an average of 2% of the vote in the seats they contested (since only a few fringe parties, such as the Greens, are able to field a full slate in all 308 districts). This would allow a few more to cross the bar. Along with this should come the one reform that would really give all parties an equal footing: Proportional Representation."

Great idea. I think it equalizes opportunities for smaller parties, and gives some level of satisfaction for voters who support parties with little chance of electing an MP. The vote is no longer 'wasted' but instead feels at least like a step forward. It builds hope that next time around a better-funded campaign will increase support, funds, and eventually win a seat.

As someone who has voted Green before, this thread of hope does make a difference.