The Canadian Independent

10%ers are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to politics at the public expense

Posted in Politics, The Public Sector by dave on March 23, 2010

Jane Taber blogged today about the issue of blatantly political 10%ers going out to constituents, paid for by tax dollars. Its ridiculous to have political parties publishing and mailing political material at taxpayer expense, but that’s only one small way that political system uses tax dollars for partisan, political or campaign means.

Established political parties in Canada receive a taxpayer-funded welfare cheque of millions a year. The Bloc, the secessionist party in Canada, receives 86% of their total party funding from Canadian taxpayers. Under this scheme parties receive $1.95 per vote they received in the previous federal election. From the 2008 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.”

As well, the breakdown of how that translates into operating budgets is as follows:

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’.

Look at the branding done by the federal government regarding their Keynesian stimulus package, Canada’s Economic Action Plan. Radio and television ads, smooth corporate branding, all assuring us that indeed the government, and Stephen Harper, is here to save us from the economic apocalypse by spending money. Oh, and vote for him next election. This kind of abuse of public funds isn’t blatantly partisan, but its just as political as sending out 10%ers which feature ridiculous caricatures of the Liberal party. You don’t need caricatures to find the Liberal party ridiculous.

And indeed, Canada’s Economic Action Plan is a political vote-buyer in the first place. Its long been a strategy in electoral politics to smear money around to those areas you want support from. Individual ridings that are close, those ridings which have supported your party. In the United States they often piggyback legislation and use earmarks to achieve this. In Canadian politics, the party system and the legislative system is much more centralized, and individual parliamentarians don’t wield the kind of legislative influence as individual congressmen, so this kind of spending has to be plot out centrally by government figures. Likely whatever Doug Finley, Stephen Harper, Guy Giorno thinks will win the next election.

The reason we should be concerned about public funds going to the operation of political parties in Canada is three-fold. First, I think that it significantly degrades the quality of the political discussion in Canada. It makes parties lazy, and it allows them to rest on their laurels. Money is another vector to gauge political support, if your party is making the kinds of noises you like, you reward them with donations. If your party is ignoring the base, or passing policy which is alien to them, then donations dry up and the party does worse in the polls. Having parties work for donations is fundamentally important for the political system because it keeps that party responsible to those people who support it with their time and money. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we’re all starting to drift towards cadre parties, who just throw out whatever set of policies they think will win the next election?

This german woman has it right. It would be more useful to burn our money for heat than to give it to political parties.

Secondly, it’s waste. Its waste because its spending money to solve a problem that isn’t a problem in the first place. Theres no serious problems that arise out of political parties having to work to build their own donation base. It’s waste because its money that could be spent somewhere else solving (or attempting and failing) another problem. Its waste to approve of projects in certain areas because you think it will win you political votes, because you are not judging the projects based on their merit or value, but rather their ability to score you points at the polls.

And thirdly, its not the proper role of government. Taxation isn’t a neutral force in society, it has real effects on real people. It takes money out of their pocket, that they can’t spend on their families or mortgages or food or sports cars. When you take people’s money away from them and spend it on frivolous activities, such as politicians throwing cocktail parties and sending out mailers, its wrong because you are decreasing the net welfare of society and wasting that money. You are making people worse off. Poorer than they would have been otherwise. Even if its just a fraction of a cent, those fractions add up. Add up to on average 38% of the GDP at this moment. Taxation is also force, and I’m not sure we should be taking people’s money away from them with the threat of property confiscation or imprisonment so some politicians can try to buy votes and play their little game of political chess, at other people’s expense.

And thats not even counting all the special funds for political lobby groups!

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  1. […] Some people are talking about this as though its a major victory. It really is a non-victory, because they can still send massive amounts of partisan mail in their own district as public expense. And it does nothing else to deal with the rest of the problems and pitfalls of public funding to political parti… […]


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