Saturday, February 07, 2009

The public funding of Mr. Harper's litigation

As the Cynic rightfully points out this morning, it is not just Conservative donors who pick up the tab for Mr. Harper's lawsuits against the Liberals and Elections Canada. It is largely the public who pays. From the December report on the costs of the "in-and-out" litigation against Elections Canada, we had this helpful reminder:
That means total costs for the dispute have likely risen to at least $1.4 million, including the undisclosed litigation costs for the Conservatives
Because the party receives a large part of its funding from taxpayers through election reimbursements, political allowances and tax deductions for financial contributions, the public in the end is picking up much of the legal tab.
And there was this note in the Calgary Sun:
The Conservative party will be paying Harper’s legal fees, spokesman Ryan Sparrow said. But even then, considering that federal parties are now heavily funded by taxpayers through quarterly allowances, the public arguably foots a substantial part of the cost.
Now I'm sure Mr. Harper would say, well, gee, I don't want any taxpayer funding of political parties, in fact I tried to do away with it in my excellent November financial update. Which is beside the point. The current regime is the one he's operating in. And the merits of public financing are many. Special interests cannot wield the type of influence here that they do in the U.S., for example. And there is restraint over the ability of the richest party to trample all others and cloud out opposing messages by dominating the airwaves. Spending limits, at least during election campaigns, ensure that.

No, the larger point is that Mr. Harper is in a position of trust as the head of a political party operating within the existing publicly financed regime and has made two major decisions now to litigate against his political opposition and Elections Canada rather than take responsibility for his party's actions in respect of the Cadman allegations and their overspending in the 2006 federal election. And in litigating those issues, he's using public funds in addition to Conservative party funds to do it.

As taxpayers, it goes without saying that we should be tremendously concerned with this wasteful, diversionary use of our dollars. Perhaps now that the Cadman case has so spectacularly failed, more scrutiny might come to Mr. Harper's actions.