The government should redirect tax subsidies for political parties to Canadians who contest a federal nomination.
The Conservative party will campaign on eliminating subsidies to political parties in the next election, making it a central plank in the party’s platform, according to a recent report published in The Hill Times.
Under current law, political parties receive $1.75 for each vote they received in the most recent federal election. This annual subsidy from taxpayers amounted to roughly $30 million last year, with the Conservatives collecting more than $10 million, the Liberals over more than $7 million, and the NDP, Bloc Québécois, and Green party about $5 million, $3 million, and $2 million, respectively.
The Tories first proposed to purge these subsidies from the books in their November 2008 economic update – a controversial pledge that pushed the country to the precipice of a constitutional crisis. Now, they are determined to revive this proposal.
But here is a better idea, one that stands to benefit both Canada and the Conservative party itself: rather than simply eliminating outright these annual grants to federal political parties, the government should redirect them to supporting Canadians who wish to contest a federal nomination.
Funding candidates is nothing new to Canadian politics. Today, any federal candidate who receives at least 10 per cent of the vote in a general election is entitled to a reimbursement of up to 60 per cent of the spending limit. And political parties may be reimbursed for up to 50 per cent of election expenses if they earn at least two per cent of the vote.
But the real democratic deficit is that a Canadian who runs for Parliament is not entitled to be reimbursed for any part of the expenses she incurs in a nomination race.
The lamentable result is, first, to shrink the range of candidates who even consider running, and, second, to limit the pool of candidates largely to those with money, connections, and independent name-recognition.
Canadian politics, and indeed Canada itself, would benefit from a new law authorizing reimbursements to nomination candidates for at least part of their expenditures. This would promote a culture of ideas over connections, enthusiasm over money, hard work over name recognition, and it would moreover cultivate an ethos of participatory democracy among all Canadians.
If the Tories push ahead with their recycled plan to eliminate political subsidies, they will surely face dogged opposition from all parties, most notably the Liberal party, which relies desperately on this infusion of taxpayer dollars to compete with the Conservatives.
But if the Tories propose instead to support nomination candidates rather than eliminate tax subsidies to political parties altogether, they will score a hat trick. First, Canadians will see the Conservative party as taking on the noble fight to enrich the quality of our democratic institutions. Second, the Tories will deny the opposition parties the moral high ground on an issue that resonates with Canadians. And third, the Conservatives will divest the Liberal party of a critical source of operating revenue and in so doing take a giant leap toward forming the majority government that has eluded them for two decades.