This week's report by Quebec's chief electoral officer about party spending is an eye-opener.
The two big established parties, the governing Liberals and the formerly governing Parti Qu?b?cois, both spent close to the limit of $3.7 million, the report says, but the then third-party Action d?mocratique du Qu?bec ran on a relative shoestring, spending only $1.4 million
But the ADQ ran the most successful campaign, and on election night was the only one of the three to stand as a clear winner.
The message that leaps out is that there is no correlation between electoral success and the amount of money a party spends. Armed with clear re-affirmation of this truth, we can see the time has come to end subsidies from the public purse to political parties, provincial and federal alike.
Provincial parties in Quebec receive 50 cents from the government for every vote they get; at the federal level the subsidy is much fatter, $1.75 per vote. The federal amount was substantially increased four years ago when corporate donations to parties were banned. This has resulted in the ludicrous spectacle of Canadian taxpayers funding the bulk of the Bloc Qu?b?cois's budget in its mission to break up the country.
These subsidies are supposed to make elections fairer, but we don't see how. If money were an essential attribute of electoral success, then giving incumbent parties more money - because they had more votes in the previous election - should serve to keep them in power. Why would the people want to tilt the scale that way?
Perhaps the ADQ would have done even better except that the big parties had more to spend. If so, the current law subverts the public will. So even if you believe - against much evidence - that elections can be bought, these subsidies make no sense.
The big item in campaign budgets is advertising, especially TV ads. Do these work? There is anecdotal evidence, at least, that voters find many ads more annoying than convincing. The ADQ spent just over $500,000 on paid advertising, one-third of what the Liberals and PQ poured into ads.
Simply put, the ADQ was able to do more with less because it offered ideas and candidates Quebecers liked.
What the ADQ did in last winter's campaign was to bank on its leader, Mario Dumont, who has natural gifts that money can't buy, but who also made himself the most accessible of the leaders.
It doesn't cost a fortune to run a successful campaign, as Andr?e Boucher proved, getting elected mayor of Quebec City on a budget of $5,000.
Cutting off public funds would make politicians work harder and make themselves more available. They should earn their media exposure, not buy it with our money.