As part of his bid for re-election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has vowed to dismantle what may be the most progressive, democratic campaign finance laws in the world.
Harper made the pledge Thursday, saying he would make the elimination of taxpayer subsidies to federal political parties a priority. On its surface, it doesn't sound like a bad plan. Who wants their tax dollars to help politicians advertise?
In reality, it's a terrible idea.
Canada's election finance rules exist to protect Canadians. Candidates and parties have strict limits on how much they can spend; individuals have low caps on what they can give (slightly more than $1,000) and unions and corporations can't donate at all.
The largest single source of funding for candidates is the subsidy, defined as $1.75 (or thereabouts) per year for each vote their party won in the previous election.
The effect is that candidates are served better by pleasing voters than by pleasing private interests. Taking $1.75 out of each voter's tax bill to ensure the balance is spent for our benefit is, on the whole, a pretty good deal.
Harper wants to undo this, and it's obvious why. Reverting to a reliance on private donors is clearly most helpful to parties who serve the interests of wealthy individuals and organizations. The Tories certainly fit that description.
Harper's plan has nothing to do with fairness to taxpayers and everything to do with giving his party an edge. It should be rejected.
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