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.