Taxpayers pay for political games
By Brian Lilley, Parliamentary Bureau
Last Updated: October 16, 2010 4:06pm
OTTAWA — Nearly two years ago, Canada faced a Constitutional crisis over taxpayer subsides to political parties and the government’s decision to eliminate them.
The Harper government backtracked at the time in the face of a threatened coalition takeover of government, but their promise to do away with per vote subsidies remains.
An analysis of party financing shows that the $1.95 per vote, per year subsidy that each party earns is not the only way taxpayers subsidize political parties.
Nearly $8 million dollars each year is spent on “research bureaus” to which each party represented in Parliament is entitled. Yet despite their name, people familiar with the operations of these offices admit most of the time, their activities are not the type of research activities Canadians would expect.
“They read through books and speeches on the opposition, pull quotes from newspaper stories, build websites to attack each other and spin the media,” said one source who has worked in one research bureau.
One of the main activities of the Conservative research bureau over the past few years was creating 10 percenters, the mailings that MPs would send to opposition ridings attacking Liberal Leader Michael Ignatiefff. Those mailings, which all parties took advantage of, were paid for by the taxpayer.
All parties recently agreed to stop using 10 percenters in ridings they don’t hold, but they can still take advantage of what is called “franked mail” to use taxpayers money to attack each other. Franked mail is even more expensive than 10 percenters, which were costing taxpayers $10 million per year according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Politicians have even set up the tax system to help political parties more than other charities such as hospitals. While a $100 donation to a hospital will help the donor knock $15 off of their tax bill, a $100 political donation will take $75 off their tax bill.
If you give the party of your choice $100 and they spend that money during an election, then the party, at least any of the major parties, will get $50 back from Elections Canada as part of an elections expenses rebate program.
Parties can also claim a GST credit, which would add another $5 to their coffers courtesy of Revenue Canada.
In the end, a $100 donation can cost the federal treasury $130.
Among all the subsidies though, the per vote funding is the biggest source of taxpayer funding. For at least one party, the per vote subsidy is what allows them to pay the bills.
Last year, the Bloc raised just $621,126 from donors but collected $2,742,215 from Elections Canada in subsidies. They weren’t alone in benefiting more from subsidies than from donations. Of the five big political parties – Conservatives, Liberals, Bloc, NDP and Greens – only the Conservatives and Liberals raised more money than they received in subsidies.
The issue of the per vote subsidy is set to come up again with the Conservatives promising to make their pledge to remove it an election issue and the opposition parties calling the subsidy critical for democracy.
An Ipsos-Reid poll taken two years ago during the Constitutional crisis showed that 61% of Canadians, including a majority in every province, wanted the subsidy scrapped.
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