Death By a Thousand Controversial Cuts

Yesterday, as you probably know (I first read about it on Beth’s site), Finance Minister Jim Flaherty gave a financial update of sorts in the House of Commons. I’m not an economist, so I won’t speculate on the pros and cons of the Conservatives’ no-stimulus stance. I am, however, interested in talking about their proposed cuts to political subsidies.

I’d kind of forgotten about these subsidies, so here’s a little summary from the CBC:

Parties currently receive $1.95 for every vote they receive in a federal election, provided they win at least two per cent of the nationwide popular vote. The annual subsidy is used to pay for staff and expenses.

On the surface, it would appear Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have the most to lose if subsidies were cut because they garnered the most votes in the October election. The Conservatives earned $10 million in subsidies, compared to $7.7 million for the Liberals, $4.9 million for the NDP, $2.6 million for the Bloc Québécois and $1.8 million for the Greens.

But because the Conservatives have such a strong fundraising base, their subsidy represents only 37 per cent of the party’s total revenues. By comparison, the subsidy amounts to 63 per cent of the Liberals’ funding, 86 per cent of the Bloc’s, 57 per cent of the NDP’s and 65 per cent of the Greens’.

There is also, it’s worth noting, a $1000 cap on donations from unions, corporations and other organizations.

When the Liberals introduced this plan in 2003, I thought it was a terrifically democratic idea. Not only does it make each vote more meaningful, but it enables smaller and fringe parties to have a little more money to work with. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation supports the cuts, saying:

“It’s absurd that Canadian taxpayers are forced to subsidize through their taxes, political parties that they do not support, especially in the case of the Bloc Quebecois — a party that seeks to break up our country.”

I disagree. What could be more democratic than giving resources to all of the political voices, even the country’s critics? I don’t want my politicians beholden to corporate interests to the degree they are in the US.

In any case, there’s a great deal of sturm und drang in Ottawa about the proposed budget cuts. They amount, I gather, to about $50 million. The Conservatives knew this would be hugely controversial, and that it would look like they were exploiting home field advantage. Is their strategy backfiring (a bit like their cuts to the arts), or do they have a bigger picture in mind?


  1. Also, I just read in the Vancouver Sun that Harper’s plan “limits public sector wage increases to 1.5%, with the right to strike suspended.” They are going to take away people’s right to strike? How is that even legal??

  2. What about people’s right to not join a union? How is that even legal – that you MUST join a union??

  3. You have the right not to join a union. Simply don’t accept a job where your position would be unionized. Similarly, if you don’t want to pay Employment Insurance premiums, start your own sole proprietorship.

    If you want the right not to pay taxes, I’m afraid you’re SOL. Although I suppose you could move to someplace like Somalia, where there’s no functioning government.

  4. Oh, and as I wrote on Twitter, whatever you think of their policies, Canada’s Tories this week reinforced the cynical bully image that cost them a majority government in October.

  5. Simply don’t apply for a job at a unionized house? Next you will be saying that deeply religious muslims who wear the full monty should not apply for jobs with safety restrictions on clothing!

    By the way. What is more democratic and grass roots than actually going to peoples doors and asking for donations? Actually communicating with the voters? Not this default subsidy silliness.

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