Federal budget hits campaign coffers

Party contribution system being changed by federal Conservatives

The latest federal budget updates will phase out the quarterly allowances for political parties over the next four years.

The Conservative government’s Economic Action Plan tabled in Parliament states the cuts are part of its commitment to continue strengthening integrity and accountability in government and political activity.

Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod says the four-year phase-out will give parties time to adjust, and allow people to support and donate directly to parties that reflect their goals and values.

“The introduction of the vote subsidy is something that is certainly, in Canadian politics, relatively new.

“We’ve had many parties throughout the history of our country that have been nurtured from small into full, participating parties.”

However, federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says the affect the elimination of these subsidies will have on democracy is “much more severe” than the financial hit to her party’s campaign coffers.

The subsidy was put in place through campaign finance reform about a decade ago, she notes, when corporations, unions and businesses were no longer allowed to make donations to political parties.

May says she is concerned the door will be left wide open for a court challenge to bring back the corporate donations.

“What the Harper government is doing now is likely to make the current situation illegal.”

However, McLeod says political parties should be supported by voluntary donors, whether it is in $10 amounts or $100, who want to support the party, its policies and its values.

The Bloc Quebecois only had to run in one province and wasn’t doing any fundraising, McLeod notes, so taxpayers were footing the entire bill for the political party.

She explains smaller parties such as the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party will have to look at drumming up some support from taxpayers on their own merit.

“They will have four years to look at that transition and how to do it. Certainly, the Conservative government has the most to lose from this exchange, with the most number of votes.”

However, when you take away public financing on the per-vote support, May says you’re putting at risk the entire reform that put an end to corporate donations.

“I think that’s the reason [Prime Minister Stephen Harper] is eliminating it. The idea that they’re doing this to save taxpayers’ dollars is ludicrous. This is .01 per cent of the total spending of the government of Canada … about $28 million.”

Political parties currently receive taxpayer support through a tax credit paid to taxpayers for their contributions to political parties, the reimbursement of eligible election expenses, and the quarterly subsidy based on votes, which May notes has the least cost to taxpayers of the three.

Legislation will be introduced to gradually reduce the $2.04 per year per vote allowance beginning April 2012 until it is completely eliminated by 2015/16.