Thursday, November 27, 2008

Harper tries to slash parties funding

This will be interesting to watch:

Symbolic cuts to politicians' perks, temporary relief for pension plans and a political grenade – ending the $30-million public subsidy to parties – are expected highlights of Thursday federal economic statement.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will ask the five political parties to give up the $1.95-per-vote subsidy that parties need to pay for staff and expenses.


Such a measure would cost the cash-strapped Liberals $7.7-million, the NDP $4.9-million, while the Bloc Québécois would take a $2.6-million hit and the fledgling Green party would be out $1.8-million.

Stephen Harper's Conservatives, who won the most votes, stand to lose $10-million.

But proportional to revenues raised last year, the taxpayer subsidy represents 37 per cent of the totals raised by the Tories. That's far less than the 63 per cent chop for Liberal coffers, 86 per cent for the Bloc and 57 per cent for the NDP. The Greens stand to lose 65 per cent of total revenues.

The Conservatives are trying to pass this by making it hard for opposition parties to vote it down. They are calling this an "austerity measure" designed to save money in tough economic times. They are bundling it with other measures that are popular, such as a trim on MP salary and an increase in pension plans. Opposition parties would look foolish if they voted it down. The Conservatives would not stop talking about how the opposition parties cared more about their perks and salaries than the interests of the taxpayers. At the same time, the Conservatives can claim the moral high ground by saying that they are the ones hurt most by this measure, which is true if you look at it in dollars. But of course if you look at it from the angle that matters, that is the percentage of funding that comes from public financing, the Conservatives would be the least affected, since they are very adept at raising money elsewhere. But it would be easy for the Conservatives to spin this in their favor.

It is also possible that they do not seriously intend to pass it, they just want to make the opposition looks bad and to ensure that they do not complain about the rest of the budget.

But if he does intend to push it through, I think Harper is taking a very narrow and short term view. If the measure passes, it will force the opposition parties to find new ways to look for money. They will all attempt to replicate Obama's model of campaign financing. They probably won't be as successful as Obama, since he had the advantage of being charismatic. But I think the LPC, if they elect a decent leader (Leblanc or Ignatieff), could revive the party using a social-networking, bottom-up, small donor, 308 ridings strategy. This measure might just force the LPC, out of economic necessity, to focus on their ground game and party building; and that might just be trouble for the CPC in the long run.

The party that stands the most to lose in this is the Bloc, because no one likes them. Québécois votes for them because they do not like the other options. But no one is enthusiastic enough about the Bloc to donate, which is why they get 83% of their funding from the government. Here is a fearless prediction: within days Duceppe will claim that Harper is trying to shut down opposition from Québec and that Québec's culture is threatened by this plan.

Hat tip: CalgaryGrit

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