A Cynical Attack on Democracy

Jim Flaherty

I had not been an ardent defender of Jean Chretien’s move to hand $1.50 per vote (now $1.90) of taxpayers’ money to the various political parties, based on how many votes each party received in the previous general election. I appreciated the fact that the move had given the Green Party some cash to build their platform and their support, thus giving Canadians another serious outlet for their political voice, but it still seemed a small, almost boring political move. Nothing to get really excited about.

But I guess you don’t really appreciate something until it’s about to be taken away, as is the case today, now that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has announced his intention to summarily withhold $30 million in public campaign financing from all the parties. After considering it, I can only conclude that it is a rather cynical attempt to damage the ability of the opposition parties to do the job they were elected to do (to wit: oppose this government).

Now I’m willing to have a full and frank discussion on the merits of public campaign financing. “Why should my tax dollars go to a party whose policies I don’t support?” I hear some people saying. Although, technically, your tax dollars don’t. The money that, say, the Bloc Quebecois receives comes from Quebec voters who contribute their $1.90 from their votes. If you didn’t vote for the Bloc Quebecois, you can rest assured that your $1.90 went to the party that you supported. And if that’s the case, on what basis should you be concerned that somebody else should choose to send money to a different party? Isn’t that their right? And if you don’t want to send money to political parties, you have a recourse: don’t vote, or vote for an independent candidate. Doing this pulls your $1.90 from the system.

I generally take the view that it should be easier for individuals to run for parliament rather than harder. I personally believe that the deposits we pay to put our names forward should be substantially reduced, and the voter threshold required to get those deposits refunded should be dramatically dropped (possibly even at a rate of $1.90 for every vote received). I firmly believe that any step which makes standing for an election the exclusive purview of the rich is a step toward oligarchy, and that is not a Canada I want to live in.

But Flaherty’s measure isn’t an attempt to launch a full and frank discussion on the merits of public campaign financing. Rather, it has been included as part of an austerity package designed to reduce such political “perks” as office budgets, limo rides, MP salaries and whathaveyou — the sort of window-dressing designed to make Conservatives look as though they’re doing something about the current economic downturn. This isn’t a discussion about whether or not public financing should be used to give the various political parties in Canada more of a level playing field; it’s framed as an attempt to save money.

This, even though killing public campaign financing would save taxpayers just $30 million, or less than 0.01% of the government’s fiscal responsibilities. Never mind the fact that it effectively silences the smaller parties, and gives Canadians fewer options in this democracy. Never mind the fact that the head of the Blogging Tories, Stephen Taylor calls this “a strategic blow to the Liberals”. This clearly isn’t about saving money, even though Flaherty clearly wants to deflect attention and limit debate by padding it into policies that are.

Worse, this being implemented without warning, almost immediately following the election, wherein most parties assumed that this funding would be available to them to plan their next campaigns; their next attempts to reach out to the Canadian public. In other words, this feels very like changing the rules of the game while the game is in progress, just to make the task of governing easier for the ruling party.

That’s not fair, and it is a cynical and underhanded move against the democratic process.

It seems that every step the Conservatives try to take to govern pragmatically and for the good of Canadians is sabotaged with other steps which highlight the cynical and undemocratic tendencies of the party beneath. This move shows us yet again that Harper and Flaherty and the rest of their ilk don’t care about the political process, don’t care about democratic debate, don’t care about listening to the interests of all Canadians, rather than the narrow minority that elected them to office.

It’s discouraging. I keep on waiting for Harper and his crew to show us something better. And I keep on being disappointed.

Further Reading

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