Saturday, April 2, 2011

Supporting Our Democracy

SOURCE: CBC News: Harper Vows to End Party Subsidies

Now, this news should come as no surprise to anyone. After all, Harper attempted to pass legislation to this effect but had to back down when the opposition united to oppose it and him. So of course, Harper is introducing the measure as a campaign promise. And that of course, is the scrapping of vote subsidies to political parties.

But why?

A CBC poll, as done through their Power & Politics program, found the majority opposed scrapping these subsidies. 2,609 people voted in the online poll (a fairly large sample) and a whopping 1,778 or 68% of those who voted were in favour of keeping the subsidies in place.

Allow me to explain:

Voter subsidies were brought into existence in 2004, after the Chretien Government banned corporate/union/organization donations to political parties. Effectively, the subsidies award parties who receive votes in general elections with a tax subsidy equivalent to $2 per vote.

As noted in the last post, the Green Party received almost a million votes in the 2008 Federal Election. As such, they received $2 per each vote, and received just under $2 million dollars.

Harper has attacked this system, claiming that it is an unfair subsidy in that parties are guaranteed it. To quote Dire Straits, Harper is opposed to political parties getting their 'money for nothing.'

The problem is that they are not getting money for nothing.

After all, the amount paid out is equal to the number of national votes received. As such, parties with support across the nation gain much needed funding.

Harper blames this system for the 'unstable' nature of minority governments, given that parties are able to finance themselves immediately after an election because of this subsidy. In the 2008 election, the Conservative Party received 5,209,069 votes across the nation. That means the Conservative Party received $10,418,138 dollars in per vote subsidies.

Now, as far as I know, the Conservative Party has never attempted to give back this money that they consider is an unfair advantage to parties across Canada. They did attempt to return $600,000 in other tax rebates, but we all know that the purpose of that was less about returning the money and more about forcing other parties into the same repayment.

So, if Stephen Harper is against this subsidy, why hasn't his party returned or attempted to return the $10,418,138 dollars they received from the 2008 Campaign?

The fact of the matter is, as with every policy proposed by Harper, this is less about appealing to voters and more about handicapping the opposition.

I've talked in length about democracy and the nature of democracy on this blog before; and one of the most important things about democracy is for those involved to be able to get their message across to Canadians. As such, if we want a democracy and not a periodically elected dictatorship, we need to be able to hear all sides of the political debate.

Now, that might sound hypocritical given my defense of keeping Elizabeth May out of the debates in my last post; but, as I've mentioned, I support May in the debate provided that she is there as a party leader. Since she has said she's focusing on her own riding, she is not really campaigning nationally, and as such has no place at the national debate.

The same argument could be made about the Bloc Quebecois; but that's a complicated argument that I won't even begin to attempt to get into here. Perhaps another post some day.

Getting back on topic.

Democracy is not about those with the most money setting the tone and manipulating the discussion; keeping Canadians from discussing things by framing an election around different issue is not a way to make democracy work. As such, political parties need to be reigned in and prevented from reaching a point where one party becomes dominant over all the others.

Democracy functions through the free-flowing exchange of ideas; and one party having $150,000 in the bank and another having $5 million means that the party with more money frames the debate and prevents other parties from being heard.

Political parties already exist in an unfair playing field where one party does indeed have more money than the other. As such, the one way to ensure that all parties are capable of being heard is ensuring that all parties who receive votes have the means of spreading their message to Canadians.

As such, the vote subsidy is a means of ensuring the Canadians are kept in the loop and kept informed. And that is what Stephen Harper is attempting to remove.

This is not about saving taxpayers' money, it's about stemming the flow of information and choice in Canadian democracy, and allowing those with the means to frame the discussion and the debate.

It's a battle between the haves and the have-nots; only if the haves win this battle, all Canadians will become the have-nots in regards to information, difference of opinion, and a means to help become involved in our democracy.

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