Canadians of federalist persuasion might be feeling rather peeved after the latest Elections Canada report on national political party financing. This document suggests the Bloc Quebecois, whose driving purpose is to break up the country, is being funded almost entirely by Canadian taxpayers.
The latest quarterly report shows from April 1 to June 30 the Bloc received $727,092 from the federal public fund for party financing, while raising a mere $27,566 in donations from supporters. So 95 per cent of the Bloc's total take came from taxpayers.
The Bloc receives the public money under the political party financing law introduced in the last year of the Chretien government. To compensate for the ban on donations from businesses and unions, the parties receive $1.75 a year for every vote they won in the previous federal election. The money is doled out in quarterly instalments.
The Bloc maintains the Elections Canada figures are incomplete, since donations via riding associations have not yet been tallied. Leader Gilles Duceppe claims the party will collect more in donations that from the public purse. We await those figures with interest.
Absurd though this situation seems, the fault lies not with the Bloc, but with the whole idea of taxpayer funding for political parties.
This whole subsidy system should be abolished. Let each taxpayer give what he or she wants to the party of his or her choice - but voluntarily, not by government decree. Nor should there be a tax break for donations.
There is no reason to believe these changes would hamstring the exercise of democracy in the country. On the contrary, it would more likely enhance it, by forcing the parties to work harder at persuasion.
Democracy worked fine before this grab of tax money began - better, some might say, than at present. Overfed political parties tend to minimize the role of actual rank-and-file members, and become closed elite groups.
Nor would we alter the pending change in the maximum allowable individual donations, which is to fall to $1,000 soon. Why should those who are able to donate much more, or to have their kids each donate much more, be allowed to buy more influence than others? $1,000 strikes us as a reasonable threshold.
As it is, the major parties spend much of the millions they get from the public financing pool on negative attack advertising, incessant focus groups to reduce their policy positions to inoffensive mush, and paid workers busily spinning the news, distorting opponents' views, and generally confusing the voters.
Can it be coincidence that voter turnout has declined in recent years just as party spending has increased?
Let parties rely on the conviction of volunteers and the strength of their message to get media coverage. A party that can't manage that deserves to founder.