With a Federal election possibly coming in the fall the government is once again raising the false impression that taxpayers subsidies to the political partys is somehow undemocratic. Democratic Reform Minister of State Steven Fletcher has taken aim at the $1.95 per vote transferred to partys who get more that 2% of the vote saying that it should be eliminated. Apart from the fact that this issue was at least in part responsible for precipitating the “democratic disfunctionality” last fall he fails to mention the subsidy that established partys get via direct donations to the party.
Elizabeth May of the greens says it best "Whenever Stephen Harper or Tom Flanagan crows about how they've done so much better at fundraising and they don't rely on the tax subsidy I want to scream," Ms. May said. "If you make a $400 donation to a political party it only costs you $100 because there's a $300 tax rebate, so it's not as if the fundraising piece of political party work is somehow divorced from the federal coffers, it is entirely dependent on the federal coffers. ... Many NGOs with charitable status could only dream of the kind of lucrative tax rebates that political parties have."
If we then also consider how the rules regarding those 10%ers are being abused it can be seen that the $1.95 subsidy is probably the most democratic of these taxpayers subsidies in that it is distributed per vote. The 10% were not intended to be a partisan tool at all but a way for individual MPs of all partys to inform their constituents of issues and services relevant to their local needs. Unfortunately instead of insisting upon tightening the rules the response from at least one of the opposition partys is “if you cant beat them, join them” and they too are using this taxpayer paid “information service” for partisan purposes.
We should remember that in 2007 the government commissioned the Public Consultations on Canada’s Democratic Institutions and Practices: and whilst its stated objectives was to “to identify the values that Canadians use to guide their opinions on the role of the citizen in the democratic process, the functioning of the House of Commons, the functioning of the Senate, the role of political parties, and the choice of desirable electoral systems.” and not to recommend any changes, some things coming out of it may be relevant.
“The general image emerging from the forums is one of parties losing attention and respect from their potential clientele or members. They are generally perceived as non-accountable and, in some instances, as secret.
Parties were generally characterized as not immensely interested in recruiting members or hearing from ordinary citizens. They are perceived as neither good nor especially honest in communicating. Aspersions were cast on the quality, clarity, and ethical integrity of party platforms. “
I think that sums it up nicely, are these efforts to remove the per vote subsidy driven by self serving partisan thinking? Would removal of the $1.95 to ALL partys who receive 2% of the vote or better, increase or decrease the already considerable advantage that existing major players have over those that are attempting to bring forward an alternative vision? Is the misuse of the printing and distribution services provided to MPs by the House of Commons acceptable? Are any of our MPs concerned about the future of our democracy or are they all simply focused upon the future of their party or themselves?
Is any of the above really about democracy? I think it is fundamental, for if one group or another has an advantage over the other when distributing their message to the public, or if public funds are misused for partisan purposes by some partys in order to gain political advantage, then that to me is clearly an attack upon our democracy. It is an unfortunate reality that the amount of money that a given candidate or party can spend upon “getting the message out”, be it to promote their platform or attack the opposition has a great deal of influence upon the outcome. It will always be harder for the underdog to rise to the top, let us not make it even harder, fairness and equality are, to me, a fundamental part of democracy and we must constantly strive to get nearer to that ideal.
Strange that our Democratic Reform Minister is more concerned about the per vote subsidy than by the loopholes and manipulation of the rules around election expenses, MPs mailing and printing privileges, the lack of that long promised accountability, the reduced access to public documents, the silencing of dissenting opinions both scientific and diplomatic and the many, many, other much more pressing issues affecting our democracy.
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