Monday, January 24, 2011

Wanna Fix Politics In Canada? Remove Per Vote Subsidies & Tightly Cap Spending

A lot of talk about party funding lately. Will it be an issue again? Most likely - with the vindictive Harper firmly believing he can "kill the Liberal Party" and force some sort of Lib/NDP merger which would allow for more future Conservative governments in a swinging pendlum, US-style system...

Certainly a merger between the two parties would result in such a system - and would be bad in a very polarizing way - and would result in the left to right swings. It would force the Liberal Party left, and give the Cons their share of Center votes - while helping them appear less extreme on the right.

We won't, however, get into this discussion... Perhaps another day. What we really need to discuss is the fair and balanced funding of parties with the per-vote subsidy program.

To be honest, I have never been a huge fan of per vote subsidies. I was bitterly opposed to the Harper government's attempt to kill them because Harper offered no alternative solution, and was really using the issue to try to kill his opposition - a very dictatorial move.

In sports terms I could highlight one shortcoming of the current system like this: you're the best team in the league, because you happen to be winning, and the league rewards you with the best picks (while sports drafts are always "reverse order" to try to level the playing field). This translates to more funds in our terms. Weak parties get a boost, but 2nd, 3rd, 4th place parties suffer without realizing it. The "leading" vote-getter get's a greater amount, and the weak formula encourages time spent fund-raising (which mostly benefits those with passionate issues - typically not issues associated with middle/center voters). The incumbent also benefits from the "incumbent effect" which ensures a lot of voters just throw their vote to who they feel will win - without even studying issues.

Can we fix the existing system? Sure... But what we need to do is follow the lead of the sports community - which has been working for parity for decades. It is "parity" that we're after, after all, isn't it? We want an equal and fair playing field where parties can exchange ideas with voters, and voters get an equal amount of material from all concerned. How can we manage this?

Cap all spending (just like the NHL, NFL, MLB, NBA, etc.) to create the level/fair playing field. We can even remove the voter subsidy. This is something we can run with as an even more fair "counter proposal". When Harper raises the "kill the subsidy" bs again: "Yes, we agree that we can do better than the subsidy. How? Let's talk..."

Imagine a "cap" on spending that ensures "the party of the rich/elite" doesn't run away with an election? Or the one-issue group that can gather mega millions on one anger-raising issue that helps empty church tithing jars... It's the most fair way to do this.

Don't just set a high cap... Set one that is an average of the 4 major party's spending during the past elections. Make the two biggies work with less (seriously - and I'm a Liberal - no favors here). Let's say the average is $7 million. Say the Liberal or Conservative Party happen to raise $8 and $12 million each. The parties would be capped at $7 million, and they would donate the excess to a "Canadian Fair Elections Fund" - which would be used to promote democratic elections at home and abroad (right now we dip into tax payer funds to finance our "watchdog" teams that observe elections in places like Afghanistan or Haiti). The fund would also encourage "Civics Education" at all levels of schooling in Canada. Parties would quickly become more efficient in where and how they spend (of course), and when they need to cut off fundraising - and actually focus on campaigning and issues.

As a fan of the cap I would like to see it set on the lower end. I think we have a political crisis in this country when the general public is tuned out from politics, and only sees what is filtered to them through the (often-biased/bought-paid-for) media. A low cap would mean less "national campaign" spending... much less... Just a handful of commercials that get roughly equal air-time between parties... The leader's tours would be more important - as would the leader actually visiting a lot of ridings (no "hide-and-seek campaigning anymore).

With very little actual federal level campaigns we might see MPs and hopefuls actually actively engaging the public, and debating issues - which is something direly needed in Canadian politics. We need it to engage voters.

Currently, incumbents (particularly on the side more likely to win localy) hide out during a campaign, while opponents jump up and down and scream "they're too 'chicken' to debate us!" Canadian voters deserve better. Too often untalented, incompetent or just plain dishonest individuals get elected before the public even gets a chance to vet them. Imagine if MPs like Nina Grewal, Rob Anders, etc., actually had to attend all-party town halls and debate issues with other candidates - and see voters other than their own supporters.

The Harper government is a perfect example of what turns voters off - distant, unreachable, with many MPs hidden from public view. Harper is terrified at what several "one-issue" right wing candidates might say - so they are muzzled. In a capped election system few MPs would be able to run in "stealth mode". We would hear the ideas they really espouse. It's not open votes in Parliament that will allow MPs to really represent their ridings - it is the MPs actually mouthing their views.

It's not just this current Conservative government that hides MPs (just more so than any other in recent history)... Most major political movements have that one MLA, MPP, or MP who they would just rather "shut up". Many have MPs who simply ride the coattails of a triumphant party machine, with little or no talent of their own. We see such incompetence displayed when a government like Harper's removes numerous MPs from Cabinet posts due to their utter failure. We see this incompetence displayed when our "new government" goes to international conferences without a clue.

Voters want to see and hear their MPs and hopefuls. If we really want to involve the public in campaigns, politics, and elections, then BRING THE CAMPAIGN TO THEM. Create a cap on spending that ends year-round campaigns, forces wiser ads (perhaps ending a lot of empty rhetoric and smears, or cutting down on it), and forces local MPs and hopefuls to air it out door-to-door, or in community forums. THAT would engage voters. You can't help but get involved if your community hall, school, and post office are hosting "Q&A sessions", "bearpits", and town hall meetings. You can't help but get involved if every MP - even the incumbent - spends time at your doorstep.

We need to bring back the "old days" of stump speeches, local candidate forums, and true electioneering. New technology will help us reach voters, but immersing ourselves in our local communities, while our national campaign spending is capped will be a "saviour" for our democracy.

post signatureVICTORY FUND


farwestie said...

Thanks for this. Please know that tampering with the public subsidy is a lot more complicated than it appears--see
This article, by Errol Mendes, explains that messing with the present policy could lead to legal challenges under the Charter and could diminish democracy in Canada.

CanadianSense said...

Have you checked the background of Errol Mendes?
In most cases when the Star cites and expert they omit his background or potential for bias. The Star, CTV, CBC usual pick the same pool of "experts" and can't find ANYONE else to provide an "expert" opinion on the other side.

I disagree with "caps" or hard limits on the number of donors each party is allowed to recruit.

The CPC donor list is greater than all opposition combined. That is the significant. Why are the Liberals at 40% of the CPC donors?

Find a message and a leader that can convince Canadians to believe in your political solutions. This is NOT magic.

If Manning and Day were able to overcome the Big Red Machine in small regular donors nothing is preventing the others from it.

With the loss of the subsidy each party will have a smaller war chest, smaller war room and be unlikely to risk an election over arena funding or HST.

WesternGrit said...

Caps will create a better, more level playing field. No sane person can argue that. If there are no caps, it is pure money that talks - including how well you fund-raise - because fundraising is really just a product of how much PR you can pay for.

If we truly want government to support ordinary Canadians, we need CAPS.

Ted Betts said...

Did you realize that the Conservatives are the most subsidized party by far?

Not only do they take in more per vote taxpayer subsidies, but they took in way more subsidies of all kinds.

In fact, according to my calculations (based on the data in this Globe article), the Conservatives rely upon taxpayer subsidies for 80% of their funds whereas the Liberals rely upon taxpayer subsidies for only 69% of their funds.

* The Conservatives cost taxpayers $8.11 per vote, Liberals $7.75 per vote.

* Tories took in $54.4 million in 2009, only $10.5 million of that was from actual donors (after tax credits)

* And here's the real killer: while only 36% of voting Canadians (and only 22% of eligible voters) supported the Conservatives in the last election, the CONSERVATIVE PARTY RECEIVED 44% OF ALL TAXPAYER SUBSIDIES. Total taxpayer subsidies was approximately $100 million. The Liberals received only 28% of all taxpayer subsidies, which is more in line with their 30% of the vote; the NDP got 20% of the subsidies; the Bloc got 8%.

Even if you don't like the per vote subsidy, you must agree that the Conservatives are eating at the trough a lot more than any other party, once again proving the saying that "Conservatives seem to think Conservative principles don't apply to them".

Ted Betts said...

By the way, we already do have caps on election spending ($18M if memory serves) and donations.

The Conservatives feel that that law does not apply to them which is why they are embroiled in a number of disputes with Elections Canada (even though the head of EC was appointed by Harper), including the In and Out Scam.

(Also by the way, the NDP outspent the Liberals in the last election.)

WesternGrit said...

I'm more concerned with a CAP - and a LOW cap - much below the $10 Million mark, rather than the actual subsidy. I think the subsidy can be made more fair... I'm more concerned, however, about maintaining a low spending cap for the national campaigns, so we see less of the massive money campaigning, and more local campaigns - more debates (which we practically have none of right now), more town halls, and just more opportunity for voters to hear the true ideas (or lack of them) from their candidates.

THAT is the true problem with politics today - lack of involvement at the local level, and lack of "access to my MP". To really have a dialogue, and to welcome the general public to it, we need less of the slick, well-oiled, national campaign machine, and more down-home local action.

We can fix a lot of the voter apathy out there - and improve the democratic process - if politics simply becomes less "big", and more welcoming to the public. The slick, high-bucks, "catch-me-if-you-can media" campaigns are turning voters off. Look South of the border, and you see what big corporate campaigns look like. If our government is to truly be for the people, it needs to interact with us. Big-bucks, flashy, corporate, high-level campaigns do nothing for the average voter - and that's why they tune out.

The result of the national campaigns is just what everyone complains of:
- no access to my MP
- Crazy attack advertising
- unclear messaging via a bunch of biased media pundits
- opportunity to run a campaign "about nothing" (no issues, no real platform - just sloganeering)
- Big Party Apparatus controlling and stiffling local MPs.

Let's cap spending, limit it to the period during campaigns, and watch as we see MPs come out of party-imposed exile (especially true on the government side).

CanadianSense said...

My mistake in reference to CAPS was sloppy.

The existing limits of $ 1,100 to indv, party and leadership candidate does NOT need to be ----)revisited.

We are talking about over $ 2,200 outside a leadership contest?

The political subsidy is just one entitlement that can be eliminated without "democracy" being under attack rhetoric.

Tightening up loans to avoid them being unpaid or double dipping of GST as well.

My MAIN points is number of donors is being overlooked by the MEDIA and pundits decrying the unfair advantage and loss of this entitlement.

WesternGrit said...

CS: I'm not overly concerned with the individual donation limits. These were adjusted and capped to ensure that "loads of money" (whether from rich individuals, corporations, or unions) did not wrongly influence elections.

You miss my point entirely when discussing "number of donors". My point is that things like money can impact and influence how many donors you get. It's not just "policy" - and if you don't agree, just look at any corporate advertising campaign. Companies know spending money to influence customers works. In the same way, big money can influence the electorate. It's not rocket science. You argue that "number of supporters" should matter. I say "hell no". Many of the supposed "supporters" are duped into voting for a party by simple things like: "My church group supports them", "My wife and/or husband did it", "most people in my political science class like that party", etc., etc. When you add to that mix the "gee, their ads are so good", or the "I see their ads all the time, and it sounds good (whether true or not)", and it's a recipe for disaster...

Limitless fundraising will create a situation like in the USA - unbridled partisan war. Not good for politics at all.

WesternGrit said...

... Besides, what's wrong with capping national campaign spending to promote more engagement at the local level with the individual MPs and hopefuls? What's wrong with putting any excess donations into a fund that helps promote democratic elections and political education for the masses?

WesternGrit said...

CS: I'm getting responses from you that are completely off topic... I'd love to sit and debate this all afternoon, but I do have work to do... I'm not posting about the "Board of Internal Economy", or what "MPs can raise in their own ridings".

What I am trying to do is create an equitable playing field for all parties - and trying to suggest what measures can be taken to involve more voters and get away from the massive, high-budget, national campaigns...