[Democracy Watch Logo] [Op-ed]

Federal per-vote funding for political parties should not be eliminated, but changes should be made to make political financing more democratic

Set out below is a letter-to-the-editor by Democracy Watch Coordinator Duff Conacher which was published in the January 19, 2011 issue of the National Post and the Vancouver Sun

The annual per-vote subsidy of $1.95 for federal political parties should not be eliminated as Prime Minister Harper proposes because it is one of the most democratic aspects of Canada's political finance system as it gives a cash boost to parties that do not elect as many MPs as they should because of the flaws of our first-past-the-post voting system.

Since each MP is given about $285,000 annually in public funding for their office and operations, the parties that elect more MPs than they should (more than the percentage of voter support they receive) are subsidized at a much higher level than any other party.

The per-vote subsidy was set at its current level in 2003 by then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to ensure the Liberals received an undemocratic dollar-for-dollar replacement of the money they used to raise from corporations.  At this level the subsidy gives parties too much annual support in-between elections.

So cutting the subsidy by 50% for parties that elect a higher percentage of MPs than they should given the percentage of votes they receive, while cutting the subsidy by only 25% for parties that elect fewer MPs than they deserve, would give all parties a solid, democratically determined funding base, but still require them to reach out and regularly address the concerns of voters in order to attract their annual donations.

The subsidy should also be reduced even more (for example, cut by 75%) for any party that operates only in one province or region, such as the Bloc, because they have lower travel and operating costs than parties with riding associations and candidates across the country.

As well, the limit on individual donations of $2,200 annually ($1,100 to each party, another $1,100 combined total to the riding associations of each party) should be cut to $1,100 annually.  This change would further require the parties to reach out to, and address the concerns of, voters in order to be successful during and in-between elections.

If these changes are made to public financing (and public financing is extended to nomination, election and party leadership candidates), and disclosure of the full identity of all donors is required (secret donations to some candidates are still legal), and loans to candidates and parties are limited (as stalled Bill C-19 proposes), Canada's federal political system will be much more democratic than it is now, and a true model for the world.

For more details, go to Democracy Watch's Money in Politics Campaign page