Nope. No pictures this entry, and a rather serious subject. Pretty long entry, too. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read this piece as I do believe that it outlines a hugely important alteration to Canadian Federal politics – one that may greatly affect our future.
Stephen Harper was very clear during his recent campaign: if he were to be elected with a majority, one of the first things he would do would be to eliminate the per-vote subsidy. This is the subsidy which each party gets at a rate of about $2 per vote. There are those who welcome this change. They say that this subsidy ‘rewards’ frequent elections (ibid.) They say that as it costs $30 million dollars a year, and that in fact it penalizes taxpayers for voting, as an increase of votes results in higher expenses to taxpayers.
$30 million dollars is a lot of working capital.Limits to the amount donated to a political party by a corporation or union were announced in May of 2002 by Jean Chrétien, in order to reduce unfair influence of our representatives, and the per-vote subsidy introduced. These changes took place Jan. 1, 2004. Stephen Harper amended these changes “…by allowing individual business or unions to contribute a maximum of $1,000 to a single election candidate, or, collectively, several candidates during any federal election…” (ibid.) The obvious solution to party fund reduction created by the elimination of the per-vote subsidy is an increase to the present limit to party donations allowed by an individual or a business, and a greater expenditure of time dedicated by MPs and party leaders to fundraising, instead of governing.
Those who support the elimination of the subsidy argue that the Conservative Party has the most to lose, as it had the highest subsidy. Prior to May 2, 2011, the annual subsidy breakdown was as follows:
Conservative Party $10.4 million
Liberal Party $7.3 million
NDP $5 million
Bloc Quebecois $2.8 million
Finally, this line of reasoning states that the public will compensate for per-vote subsidies by donating directly to whichever political party it deems most representative of its point of view, thereby creating a truly democratic system.
I have tried to fairly represent this perspective here, but I clearly hold the opposing point of view.
The ability to contribute financially to a political party is restricted to those who have the disposable income to do so. If one is poor, struggling to pay rent, or visiting a food bank in order to feed one’s family, charitable donations of any kind are impossibility. Single parents, the elderly, unemployed, underemployed, and the homeless are all groups that would have difficulty financially supporting a party that they feel is representative of their needs. The reality is that the upper middle-class (while it exists), the wealthy, and corporations will be the primary sponsors of political parties, and the inevitable influence (even if meant benevolently) will result in unfair representation.
$30 million dollars a year seems like a huge sum of money – and it is. It needs to be considered within the context of the Canadian annual budget, though, in order to properly evaluate it. Let’s look at just one project that was funded by the Federal government last year.
Waterfront Toronto (formerly known as The Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation) was given a total of $61 million over three quarters during 2010 in order to build a park and housing (including social housing). This breaks down as follows:
2010/07/29 = $21,125,000
2010/11/04 = $6,000,000
2010/04/06 = $9,800,000
– You do the math!
This project sounds innovative, and God knows I think we need more green space. Canada also needs more social housing, and this project purports to provide affordable social housing. How much of the “affordable social housing” consists of low-income or subsidized housing is a question I cannot answer (after several emails over the course of a week-and-a-half to the company, which were not answered). A significant issue with this project is the governance of public funds received by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (involved in the project, and responsible for building social housing on the site) – twice receiving scathing reports from Auditor General Jeff Griffiths for misuse of funds. One report summed up the situation as follows:
“…imagine how the corporation’s 164,000 tenants —
many of them poverty-stricken — feel living with leaking roofs,
mould [sic], cockroaches and bed bugs, rusted plumbing,
bad wiring, crumbling balconies and crime.
Imagine living in a public housing unit like that and learning
that corporation staff were being treated to pedicures
and massages, spa water therapy, $40,000 to $50,000
Christmas parties, a boat cruise, gift cards and luxury chocolates.”
(For more articles on this scandal, you can link here, here, and here.)
I don’t want to get too far off topic. This blog is concerned with the elimination of per-vote subsidy. I did want to put the annual $30 million cost to taxpayers into perspective, though. This happens to be a particularly volatile example, but it does illustrate how quite a bit of grant money can be misspent and misused. Is $30 million dollars, within this context, used to help level the playing field between rich and poor, between established and disenfranchised within a democracy really that much money? People often confuse “democracy” (in our case, a Westminster-Style Parliamentary Democracy with “capitalism”. The per-vote subsidy was a method of supporting equal representation, regardless of corporate or individual income status.
Again, clearly I support the per-vote subsidy, and feel that it is worth fighting for. However, I have tried to be fair and present the opposing viewpoint. No matter what your stance, this issue is worth taking a bit of action and writing a few letters and emails.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
So, the list of what you can do is actually pretty short.
1. Think about this issue. Do a bit of reading, or if you are inclined, a bit of your own research.
2. Decide which side of the fence you stand on.
3. Discuss this issue with others, and inform them of both sides of the argument.
4. If you are against the elimination of the per-vote subsidy, go to gopetition.com and sign their online petition. If you are for the elimination, no petition signing is necessary as Harper has already stated that the elimination of the subsidy will be phased in.
5. Write to your MP, to Stephen Harper, and to Jack Layton, letting each of them know how you feel about this issue. Let them know that you have signed the online petition. You can find your MP by linking here, and you can email Harper and Layton. You can also write a ‘real’ letter and mail it (postage free) care of:
The House of Commons
Thank you for taking the time to read this extra-long entry. The next two entries will be shorter, and will deal with people who have used personal experience as a galvanizing force to make change.