Monday, August 24, 2009

Are the Conservatives forgetting their Flanagan?

According to the Winnipeg Free Press, the Conservatives have deputized "democratic reform" minister Steven Fletcher to lead a new charge to end the per-vote subsidy for political parties.

As the article rightly points-out, such a move would no longer mark the financial death-knell of the Liberal Party of Canada. Under the leadership of Alf Apps and Rocco Rossi the party's fundraising machine has been reinvigorated, and the subsidy is no longer the lifeline it once was for the party.

Still, I'm not necessarily ready to support its elimination. When the Liberal government of Jean Chretien brought-in the subsidy, it was to counter the elimination of corporate and union donations, which cut-off a major source of funding to political parties. The Conservatives tightened the taps even further, by sharply limiting personal donations from around $5400 to today's cap, which IIRC is around $1100.

I remember when Stephen Harper argued money was speech and shouldn't be constrained, but I won't digress. I'll just say that I may me amenable to re-visiting the per-vote subsidy were such a move coupled with a significant increase in the personal donation limit. I think that would be a fair compromise.

But what led me to blog on this issue though was this graph from the Free Press article:

As well, the Conservatives cutting off the vote tax would not cripple the Liberals finances but would hamper the NDP and Bloc Quebecois, both of which earn more from the vote tax than from donations.

And that would be bad news for the Conservatives, whose victories are in part due to the splitting of votes on the centre-left of the political spectrum.
That's a very good point. Strategically, it's in the best interests of the Conservatives to ensure a strong NDP. That's Flanagan 101. A strong NDP pulls votes from the Liberals (not saying the Liberals own those votes or anything, just that they draw from the same well) which creates splits that help elect Conservatives. Battleground Ontario is a good example of this. A number of recent Ontario polls have pointed to Conservative losses in the 905, driven in part by Liberal strength and coresponding NDP weakness. That's a bad picture for the CPC.

So while going after the per-vote subsidy might have made good strategic sense for the CPC when the LPC was a fiscal basketcase, today you could argue it would actually be strategically counter-productive for them.

Of course, there is the chance this is about what's right for the CPC, and not strategic positioning and sticking it to their opponents.

Hey, there's a first time for everything.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers

5 comments:

MERBOY said...

I think the Liberals should look at pushing an alternate form of government funding for parties... instead of a vote subsidy + donation rebates... taxpayers should select a party every year when they submit their taxes... pick nobody and you essentially fund all parties that qualify... otherwise your money goes towards the party or parties you select.

popthestack said...

Interesting article, I think the per vote subsidy is great and the only way to ensure all voters get a say in funding that doesn't reveal their intentions, it also encourages people to vote. Merboy, your proposal is IMO, one of the worst changes we could make. This would entrench the party system and create allegiances that could be used in all kinds of ways. The American approach to identifying with a party is hurtful to constructive debate since it turns everyone into a partisan. I fear your proposal would do the same.

Mark Francis said...

The Greens would be devastated.

Having us select which party gets a subsidy each year would be a bad thing, as each tax season we would just get innudated with even more political attack ads, which basically just has us funding even more political junk with our money.

Why oh why are they not talking about ending all the other public subsidies to political parties? Parliamentary research budgets, mailers, EDA subsidies...

I wonder if they aren't going to try to legalize the In and Out scheme for legal future use?

MERBOY said...

RE: popthestack...

"Merboy, your proposal is IMO, one of the worst changes we could make. This would entrench the party system and create allegiances that could be used in all kinds of ways. The American approach to identifying with a party is hurtful to constructive debate since it turns everyone into a partisan. I fear your proposal would do the same."

There are plenty of people who vote for the same party every time no matter what now... as for those who don't... if I'm willing to vote for the Greens one election and the Liberals another... why wouldn't I make the tiny effort to change which party I support on my tax form every once in awhile?

RE: Mark Francis...

"Having us select which party gets a subsidy each year would be a bad thing, as each tax season we would just get innudated with even more political attack ads, which basically just has us funding even more political junk with our money."

Without a "no political ads outside an election" law we're currently getting plenty of partisan garbage advertising thrown at us anyways.

There's no reason why the reform couldn't be "no political ads outside an election" AND "select which party/parties you support on your tax return".

Gayle said...

Why not end the tax credit instead? How do you justify one and not the other?

I know a lot of people who vote green in their ridings, because outside of one riding in Edmonton, everyone knows the CPC will win in Alberta, and people want the Green Party to remain viable.

I wonder if it costs the taxpayer more to cut the subsidy or the tax credit.