The federal opposition parties have grudgingly accepted the Conservative government’s proposed elimination of the taxpayer-sponsored funding they receive for every vote cast in their favour.
The budget commitment to end the per-vote subsidies comes 2 1/2 years after a similar proposal prompted outraged opposition leaders to threaten to replace Stephen Harper’s minority government with a Liberal-led coalition.
With the Conservatives now in a majority, the other parties have no real choice but to accept that the flow of money they receive from government coffers is going to run dry.
“We will live with it, we’ll work with it, we’ll go out and fundraise,” NDP Leader Jack Layton said. But the loss of the subsidy, he said, means “those who are able to raise the most money will be able to have the most say when it comes to presenting their ideas. And that’s not very democratic.”
Liberal Leader Bob Rae was more blasé. “My view is there is no point in arguing that,” he said. “That’s spilled milk. It’s gone by.”
The government said it will introduce legislation to gradually reduce the allowance of $2 a year per vote by increments of 51 cents starting on April 1 of next year until it is eliminated by 2015-16. Budget documents say the measure will ultimately generate annual savings of about $30-million.
Although the Conservatives have the most to lose of all the parties in straight dollar terms, they also have the most to gain. Their superior fundraising machine means the per-vote stipend forms a much smaller percentage of their overall financing.
In announcing during the election campaign that a majority Conservative government would phase out the subsidies, Mr. Harper said they are unfair to taxpayers who “shouldn’t have to support political parties that they don’t support.”
But, even when the per-vote subsidy is gone, tens of millions of tax dollars will continue to flow to political parties through refunds of large portions of political donations, and through rebates on election spending.
Kathleen Cross, who teaches democratic communications at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, said the per-vote subsidy is the most fundamentally democratic approach to funding political parties.
“Not all people who vote have the money to give a thousand bucks or $200 to the party they support,” Prof. Cross said. “So it means that, fundamentally, the economics supports the intention of the taxpayers.”