Saturday, April 2, 2011

Harper Wants to Weaken Democracy...Again

Yesterday, Stephen Harper brought a campaign issue that literally no one else was thinking about. He informed the public that a Harper majority government would remove the per0vote subsidy that political parties receive. He tried to look moderate in doing so, suggesting that the subsidy would be phased out over three years. And while this is better than his now infamous plans in 2008, it is still an attack on democracy. Why? Because this subsidy helps to eliminate the influence of rich donors in politics. And guess who would benefit from rich individuals' donations being a greater share of the whole of party funding? That's right, the Conservatives.

The per vote subsidy allocates money solely based on how many votes a party received. It does not vary based on how rich the voters are. This means that parties like the NDP, based on lower-middle class voters, benefit significantly. Their supporters are less likely to be able to donate in the same amounts as the Conservatives' supporters. So the public subsidy levels the playing field. After all, if we have some parties based partly on these economic divides, the party with the richer supporters will have more funding than those with the less well off supporters, unless some public funding is provided. This is the raison d'etre of the per vote subsidy. Clearly Harper wants to benefit from increasing the importance of the donations he receives from his rich donators as a proportion of the funds going to all parties. This will undermine democracy, giving the Conservatives an advantage over other parties.

The Harper defense of an action that serves to skew the political playing field in his favour is two-fold: he maintains that we don't need 3 public subsidies to parties and that the state shouldn't be supporting parties that taxpayers don't want to support themselves. The 3 subsidies are the per vote one, the reimbursement of 50% of electoral expenses nationally and 60% locally, and the income tax credit of up to 75% given to donators to political parties.

However, as you might have guessed, the two latter subsidies do not help to level the playing field as much as the per vote subsidy. The reimbursement benefits most the parties that have the most expenses, and thus in general those who had lots of money to begin with. Furthermore, the local reimbursement of 60% requires having received 10% of the vote in the constituency. This hurts smaller parties like the Greens.

As for the income tax credit, it clearly helps most the parties that have the richest donors and thus the largest total of donations. To benefit from an income tax credit, you have to already be receiving money. Guess which party receives the most and thus benefits the most? The Conservatives.

Due to the influence of these latter two subsidies, the Bloc received 5.91 of public finance per vote, the Greens 4.59, the Liberals 7.75, the NDP 7.87 and the Conservatives 8.11 So these latter two subsidies that Harper are inherently less than perfectly democratic. The one that is, the per vote subsidy, is the one he wants to get rid of.

Doing so would clearly benefit Stephen Harper. There is no other motive. The idea that the state should not pay for services that taxpayers don't pay for themselves would eliminate countless programs. Is Harper about to eliminate healthcare for young people who would not buy it if it were left up to them? No. Why? Because doing that would not skew the political playing field in his favour.

Here's a radical idea. How about the state be the sole provider of funding to political parties? This could be done on a bracket system. The top 5 parties in the past election would receive the same amount, the next 5 would receive another amount, and so on. That would make each voice equally loud. That would eliminate any skewing effect of money in politics. Just an idea. Rather than undermining democracy, we could be building it up.

So both these latter forms
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9 comments:

  1. Actually it is Liberal Party that benefits from rich individuals' donations:
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/analysis-fears-about-scrapping-per-vote-subsidies-wildly-off-target/article1968366/

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  2. And guess who would benefit from rich individuals' donations being a greater share of the whole of party funding? That's right, the Conservatives.

    Who is the party of "rich individuals"? It doesn't matter how rich a donor is; did you forget? There is cap for what people can donate. Follow that link that Anon provided above. In fact, the Tories have more donors giving smaller amounts and the Liberals have less people donating more - and yet, the Tories are able to raise much more than the Liberals.

    And that is ultimatley why the Liberals are against the subsidy being eliminated. They know that unless those fewer people who donate more within their party do so, they will be crippled by the elimination of the subsidy. When push comes to shove, the regular, every day people in the Liberal party aren't donating $20 here and there; o it is the more rare "rich individuals" donating their limit in one shot. It is also why they were hurt more when corporations and unions donations were eliminated. The NDP learned to adapt, and the Tories have learned how to thrive, but the Liberals are withering without it. So who is the party of "the rich" again?

    Something to thin about while you digest the demolition of your typical Liberal party rhetoric.

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  3. .."No one is thinking about it.."; Except angry,frightened Liberals.

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  4. You commentators are forgetting that the real benefit of the per vote subsidy is to aid smaller parties have a public voice. Like most Conservatives they also forget that only where there is a great diversity of political discourse can there be a healthy democracy. Parties who represent the interests of higher income people always set the agenda because they have the greatest control of, or at least impact on, political and social discourse. Democracy is not, as so many people seem to think, simply the ability to elect your representatives. Rather, it is about creating the greatest degree of honest and equal political debate through a public sphere. Closing out smaller parties means shutting down alternative ideas, which in turn means the weakening of democracy. Anything that can be done to aid smaller parties being part of the political discourse is a welcome contribution to democracy. The vote subsidy may aid the Liberals but more importantly it opens the possibility of discourse. And if one knows anything about history, one knows that conservatives have never been big on democracy or honest open discourse.

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  5. One thing Canadians can all rally behind is giving political parties less money.

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  6. As some commentators noted, it seems the Liberals receive proportionately more from richer donators, at least if you look at the mean donation for the Liberals and for the Conservatives. I accept that, though I did not know it at the time of writing the post.

    However, I would caution that means are often misleading. I think we can say there are two types of Conservative supporter: richer classes, and rural conservatives. Now if the richer people give the 1100 maximum, and the die hard grassroots rural conservatives give small amounts around say $25, we can arrive at a situation where the Cosnervatives have a lower mean than the liberals, yet receive more money from the rich. It's possible, and the data provided by the Globe and Mail does not address this potential explanation.

    This explanation would seem to make sense though. For instance, in my riding Vancouver Quadra, there are only signs for the Conservatives in the richer areas, such as Shaughnessy.

    As for the cap of $1100, it does nothing to my analysis, as richer donors are more likely to reach that cap than others.

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  7. As will appear on my personal website www.jamesconvey.com

    .......The more one listens to Stephen Harper the more one is reminded of the radical attitude of the tea party crowd to the extreme right of the US republican party. His political posturing of the last 2 years has taken on a frightful and radical right wing extremism

    That he seems to think that sensible Canadian conservatives will swallow this American ideological "hogwash" is indeed disconcerting. Canadian politics is not and has never been, about power in the hands of only those few, who can financially afford to support a candidate or party! Which is definitively the state of the American political dynamic at present. Given that corporate lobbying power is even now secured as sacrosanct, by their U.S. supreme court? Is this where Harper is leading us? Our political debate has always been about Canadian values, those of equality of access to an honest and decent living and an honest and decent government. Stephen has forgotten his roots! His desire to emanate his southern cousins in the tea party has become a dangerous obsession!

    He has lost us the respect of the UN. He has intimidated immigrants. He has chosen to bring his brand of evangelical christianity into the ideological debate, which causes me real concern, as I believe, as most conservatives do, in the definitive separation of Church and state! If he is going to mirror American values why not mirror the best ones? Those that garner real support of Canadian conservatives!

    Equally he continues to waste taxpayer dollars on flights of fancy as regards our arctic presence. Off shore Oil exploration as a potential priority for the far north? Fighter jets that do not serve the immediate needs of the Canadian military! Which is about safety equipment to protect the individual soldier in the field. If we are going to continue in these stupid war settings at the behest of America, then for Gods sake spend the money on our troops! Jet planes flying nowhere is a criminal waste of revenues.

    This long gun registry nonsense is also a non issue. Most Canadians are assuredly against violence and do support express control of the weapons of violence within our communities. The violence of gangs and their use of weaponry, that has recently exploded in several Canadian cities, needs the attention of our leaders and such weaponry indeed needs regulating and controlling! Whether they be long guns or short guns! The argument is moot! We have no "2nd amendment issue" in our Canadian constitution!

    Additionally this nonsensical emphasis upon the construction of a massive new prison system for this nation, makes absolutely no economic sense at all? A smarter and more cost effective approach would appear to be increased judicial oversight, and a more supportive dynamic of enforcement protocols at the street level. Better policing in other words, and a more cost effective job stimulation for our police forces. Stop crime before it occurs and the need for prisons is reduced, not increased!

    Regardless of the obvious lack of any exciting alternative selection, I am afraid I will, "even while holding my nose perhaps" have to consider voting in opposition to the radical ideology, that this Prime minister is wishing to foist upon Canadians. I for one will not give him my vote this time around!..........

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  8. @YL....... Don't be swayed by the narrow view that the present reality presents. The argument is not really about the existing dynamic in any case, but rather where Mr Harper, if he wins a majority, intends to go in this business of lobbyists and political party financial support.
    Once the old system is ousted, then one must assume he will follow form and establish an Americanized ideologically right wing counterpart, here in Canada. His friends at Fox News and the support of their legal network will make short order of our old fashioned Canadian ideological values. Mark my words.
    The end result will be the control of our political lives by a small cadre of wealthy ideologues. That is the real issue in this election

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