Crunching Numbers

How much will killing per-vote subsidy stack odds in Tory favour?

The Globe and Mail

Editorial Cartoon by Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail

Though an election campaign can turn on a dime, they are not won in a day. Years and years of work is put in by every party, and the stellar breakthrough of the NDP in Quebec was due, according to the party itself, to their years of hard work in the province since Jack Layton became leader. But laying the groundwork for a future election win costs money, and the abolition of the per-vote subsidy is likely to put the Conservatives in a tremendously advantageous position.

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Last year, almost $60-million poured into the coffers of the five major federal parties, not including private contributions made to individual riding associations. Roughly half of that revenue was generated by the per-vote subsidy, which awards about $2 to each party each year for every vote cast in their favour in the last election. This subsidy is paid by the Canadian taxpayer.

The other half came in the form of political contributions by individual donors. While ostensibly privately funded, these contributions cost the public roughly $20-million per year in tax rebates.

Over the next four years, the subsidy will be phased out to the tune of $0.51 per vote per year, starting next year. Over that time the Conservatives will be given the largest chunk of the subsidy.

Last year, the Tories took in $17.4-million in contributions, compared to the $7-million raised by the Liberals and the $4.4-million raised by the New Democrats.

In all, the Conservatives collected $27.9-million in subsidies and contributions in 2010. That dwarfed the $14.3-million collected by the Liberals, the $9.5-million collected by the NDP, and the more than $3-million each collected by the Bloc and Greens. This money was put to good use, as the Conservatives blanketed the airwaves with political advertisements before the campaign, setting the stage for the May 2 majority victory.

What will the abolition of the per-vote subsidy mean for the future? Though the opposition will be undoubtedly ramping up their fundraising apparatuses, the Conservatives still have a huge head start over their rivals.

Let us assume the money raised in 2010 was used to “buy” votes during the 2011 election. Working under this assumption, we can say the Conservatives “spent” $4.78 in 2010 for every vote earned in 2011. This was less than the Liberals, who spent $5.14 for every vote cast in their favour. The New Democrats, however, were far more efficient, having to spend only $2.10 of 2010’s revenue for every vote earned in 2011.

With their funding reduced by more than half due to the abolition of the per-vote subsidy, however, the Liberals and New Democrats, as well as the Bloc and Greens, would have had less money to spend in 2010 on laying the groundwork for 2011.

Using only the money raised in 2010 through private contributions to “buy” votes in 2011 at the above listed prices would have given the Conservatives a vote share of 48 per cent, compared to only 28 per cent for the New Democrats, 18 per cent for the Liberals, 3 per cent for the Greens, and 2 per cent for the Bloc Québécois.

In practical terms, an electoral result like that would likely see the Conservatives win about 210 seats in the 308-seat House of Commons. The New Democrats would win roughly 75 seats while the Liberals would be reduced to about 20, give or take a few.

Though a purely hypothetical exercise, this gives an indication of what the advantages the Conservatives already have in fundraising could mean. The phasing out of the per-vote subsidy will give the opposition parties an opportunity to prepare for the future, but unless they close the fundraising gap with the Tories soon they will find themselves behind the eight-ball in 2015.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com