ATAMANENKO: Vote subsidy hypocrisy
Stephen Harper is planning to do away with the per-vote subsidy to political parties. Brought in under the Chretien Liberals, this is the subsidy that, along with putting stricter limits on union and corporate donations, was meant to reduce political influence over Canadian elections. Under current laws it is no longer permissible for corporations, trade unions or other unincorporated associations to make any political contributions.
Today, there are three ways that our federal political parties receive tax payer support:
1) The $2 subsidy for every vote a party receives in the most recent election
2) The political contributions subsidy – a tax credit for political donations ranging from 50-75%
3) The electoral expense reimbursement – contributes half the cost of party election expenses and 60% of candidate election expenses providing a certain vote threshold is attained
According to political scientist Geoffrey Stevens, in 2009 the total cost of the political contributions subsidy through tax credits was $20 million, of which $10.5 million went to the Conservatives. After the 2008 election, $55.5 million of public money went to reimburse central parties and individual candidates through the electoral expense reimbursement. The Conservatives received $21.4 million of that amount.
Based on past figures, we can project that the Conservatives will likely receive at least the same electoral expense reimbursement from the 2011 election ($21.4 million) and likely $10.5 million per year, for four years, from the political contributions subsidy if their level of donor support remains steady. Even without the $2.00 per-vote subsidy, the Conservative party is still poised to collect a minimum of $60 million of public money over the next four years and likely much more.
The political contributions subsidy is like a matching grant from government for donating to a political party, only at a far better rate (between 100% and 300%) than donating to charity (between 18% and 40%) or investing in your child’s RESP (20%). This subsidy forces all Canadian taxpayers to subsidize the 1% who donate to political parties.
The key here is that Harper is NOT cutting the political contributions subsidy – he is only removing the democratically distributed per-vote subsidy which allows the 60% of Canadians who voted to allocate public funding to the party of their choice. No public subsidy is generated at all by the 40% who did not vote.
Another crucial point is that less than 1% of eligible voters make political donations. Cutting the per-vote subsidy will transfer the generation of electoral financing from 60% of voters to 1% of voters. What this really means is that parties representing wealthier Canadians will be better subsidized than those who represent the less wealthy. After all those with low income who do not pay taxes certainly aren’t eligible for any 50-75% tax credit. Even worse, those with more money to donate will effectively have a much greater say in how their party receives taxpayer subsidies.
If, as they claim, the Harper regime really wanted to ensure taxpayers aren’t financing parties they haven’t voted for, then they should end the political donation tax credit. The per-vote subsidy is the fairest political financing we have – everybody gives $2 with their vote to their party. Under Harper’s plan our public subsidies to political parties will be based on how much a party’s supporters can pay and how much the parties spend during elections, rather than on their level of democratic support. By any account, this power play by the Conservative government is extremely anti-democratic and entirely hypocritical.
Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior.