Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The public party finance system getting attention

The Flanagan study on public party financing serves its purpose, creating fodder for columnists to ponder and treat the very system as if it's an issue up for debate.

1. First up: "Forced to support separatists." You can guess what the author's opinion is on the public system by its title. The funding of the Bloc through the public subsidy, as are all political parties, is a convenient front to attack the public funding system. But it's not politically palatable to cut the Bloc's funding, so really, this is just continued griping that will serve to inflame some against the system. That's the rub of a public system, we fund 'em all because we believe in the equal playing field.

The real discontent with the public system from some on the right is this view offered by the columnist:
But the biggest problem with the current system is that it forces Canadians to fund parties with which they vehemently disagree. No person should have to subsidize parties whose policies he or she finds objectionable, even repugnant.
Sounds like a desire to quash the present system. Even Tom Flanagan confirmed in that study that the Conservatives' continued pledge to slash the public subsidy to political parties would "cripple" other political parties and that it wasn't the time to replace the system. Yet the Conservatives maintain their anti-public financing policy position in the face of such knowledge.

As the Americans face a system about to be awash in corporate money as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court case which struck down limits on corporate spending in U.S. elections and was decried as a "blow to democracy," we should celebrate our own public system and not follow their path.

2. Chantal Hebert also has a column on the party financing system and Flanagan's study today. Remarkably, in what will be received as manna from heaven in the PMO, she concludes there is a case to be made for scaling the public subsidy down due to the Flanagan study's point that funding has led to the creation of a more toxic partisan environment. Therefore, what? There will be more public peace if the subsidy is cut? That's a bit hard to believe. It's a whole other post on factors that have led to increased partisanship at the federal level.

She recognizes the point that if you eliminate the subsidy, it will harm the parties yet she doesn't address the harm that will be caused by a reduction in it.

She also states, "It is hard to see the advent of a permanent federal air war at taxpayers' expense as a positive development," as a rationale for the subsidy reduction. If there's a "permanent federal air war," it's come from the Conservative party. Otherwise, it's not clear what she's talking about. How this point could be extrapolated to reduce the subsides to all parties is unclear.

We pay approximately $30 million a year for these party subsidies, it's not a heck of a lot of money for a foundational element in our democratic system. Furthermore, those subsidies work in combination with relatively low limits on individual donations to parties ($1,100). There's a point we might get to where we're squeezing the parties too much, Hebert's suggestion goes down that road.

These days, when we are concerned about the health of our democracy, it's not the time to be knocking down more pillars. It's not just about the prorogation, baby.