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The Globe and Mail

Harper turns off taxpayer-funded tap for political parties as promised

Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa for a gala film screening on Oct. 3, 2011.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It's just one short paragraph on page 204 of the 642-page Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act. And it does what Stephen Harper has wanted to do for years – eliminate the $2 per-vote taxpayer subsidy for political parties.

On Tuesday, Mr. Harper's government tabled the bill, fulfilling a promise from the May election to get rid of the taxpayer funding, which is estimated to cost $30-million annually.

It's a move the Prime Minister has been itching to make but couldn't because of his minority government. During the spring campaign, he blamed the frequency of elections on the taxpayer subsidy, which he said allowed political parties to get "enormous cheques" whether "they raise money or not."

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He had also tried in 2008 to scrap the subsidies – but it almost brought down his newly-elected government and he had to back off.

Not anymore.

The opposition, not surprisingly, says this is undemocratic.

"Well, we don't agree with it," Opposition finance critic Peggy Nash told The Globe on Tuesday. "We think that the more you have public support for electoral funding ... the less chance there is for corruption and the influence of big money."

She added, however, that the NDP do a good job fundraising and are not worried about the move. But it is a challenge for the Liberals, who have struggled over the past few years with raising money.

It was a Liberal government that brought in the subsidy in 2004. Since it was implemented there have been limits on how much individual Canadians can donate. The cap currently sits at $1,200 per person, per year.

Also opposed to the subsidy's elimination is Duff Conacher, founding director of Democracy Watch. In an open letter to the media, Mr. Conacher says the annual subsidy is "the most democratic part of the federal political finance system because the funding is handed out based on the actual support from voters each party receives in an election."

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He adds: "By cutting the per-vote funding, the Conservatives are making the most undemocratic change they could make to the federal political finance system."

Mr. Conacher suggested, too, that the governing party has a huge advantage over the opposition. "By stuffing the Senate with Conservatives, Prime Minister Harper has further subsidized his party with the public's money."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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