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Editorials Giving Ontario political parties a public subsidy is galling and wrong

Yasir Naqvi, the government leader, is seen during a press conference earlier this year.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

'Democracy is not free," Yasir Naqvi, the Ontario government house leader, said on Tuesday. To prove it, he announced that taxpayers owed his Liberal Party $4,212,581.24 for the privilege of having voted for it in the 2014 general election.

The Progressive Conservatives are owed money, too – $3,409,912.86. The Ontario NDP are due $2,587,297.72. The Green Party, which has no seats in the legislature, is owed $525,531.36.

These generous sums – these invoices in the name of freedom – are part of the reform of Ontario's outdated political donation rules that the government announced on Tuesday.

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Under the proposed changes, parties that received more than 2 per cent of the popular vote in the previous general election will be given an annual public subsidy of $2.26 for each vote received, starting in 2017. Hence the sums above, based on the 2014 election.

In exchange for the handouts, the parties will stop collecting donations from unions and corporations. That practice – so abused by the Liberal Party with its cash-for-access fundraising scam – will be banned, as it has been at the federal level and in four other provinces.

Ontario is also lowering the limit on donations from individuals to political parties to $1,550 per year and cracking down on third-party spending, a chronic problem in Ontario. There is plenty to applaud in these reforms, and much to criticize too, all of which we will return to later this week.

But one thing in the government's plan is just flat-out wrong: A per-vote subsidy for political parties is galling and unnecessary, and should be dropped without further discussion. It's not enough that the government says the subsidy will decrease over time.

If the parties adopt the bill as is, they will be paying themselves millions of dollars to implement fundamental changes that they should have brought in years ago. The idea that they should be rewarded with public money for doing the right thing is absurd.

As the federal parties have demonstrated since 2011, parties can raise tens of millions of dollars through small amounts solicited directly from supporters. There is no justification for a taxpayer subsidy. If democracy isn't free, then it shouldn't be free for Ontario political parties.

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