Money money money
By Laura Carlin
Well, it may not make the world go round, but money sure helps come election time. How much money the parties have determines how much campaigning they can do, and how much attention they can generate.
During an election campaign, that money is watched and regulated by Elections Canada. Beginning in January 2004, new rules came into effect for financing political parties. The changes include:
- Restricting donations from individuals to a maximum of $5,000 and from corporations to $1,000;
- Restricting party election expenses to 70 cents for every voter on the list;
- Allowances for parties that earned at least two per cent of the vote nationally or five per cent in any riding.
The legislation changes the way the parties can do business. Parties that earn more than two per cent of the vote nationally, or five per cent in a riding, will be given $1.75 (indexed for inflation) for every vote they receive. The money means stable financing, and less reliance on donations.
In the past, Canada's election law focused more on spending limits and expenses than contributions. The changes in 2004 saw new attention paid to who was contributing, and how much. As of January 2004, individuals can contribute a maximum of $5,000 in a calendar year to a party, and $5,000 to a candidate for election. Corporations and labour organizations aren't allowed to contribute to parties, just to individual candidates or riding associations. The aim is to counter the perception that money buys influence in government.
Regardless of how much money a party collects, there are limits on what they can spend during an election campaign. For parties, they can spend 70 cents on each voter in the ridings where they have candidates. For the Jan. 23 election, parties with candidates in all 308 ridings are allowed to spend about $18.2 million on campaigning. Limits are set separately for parties and for candidates. Candidates also have a per-voter limit, with the amount changing depending on how many voters are in the riding. Adding that to the spending at the national level can just about double what is spent during the election.
Parties have to submit reports on what they spent their money on to Elections Canada. The bigger parties (Conservative, Liberal, NDP) tend to spend close to the limits. The other parties, for the most part, can't. (The Bloc Quebecois has a much lower limit since it only runs candidates in Quebec. In the last election, it spent close to its limit.)
How much the major parties spent in 2004
|Bloc Quebecois: $4,511,087.12
|*Note: These figures do not includes amounts spent by individual candidates
So-called third parties also have limits on how much they can spend during a campaign. Individuals and groups that are not parties or candidates can spend $3,000 per riding, and $150,000 nationally. The National Citizen's Coalition challenged those rules, right up to the Supreme Court, but lost in May 2004. The group says the law denies the right to freedom of expression. "It gives the politicians a monopoly on speech during an election," argues Gerry Nichols of the NCC. "Elections should be a free marketplace of ideas and let the voters decide which to accept. and which to reject."
The Green Party
The changes to party financing have made a huge difference to the Green party in particular. After earning about four per cent of the vote in 2004, the party's yearly income grew to about $1 million. The party's executive director, Jean Langlois, says it means a lot to the Greens. "Two years ago, leading into the 2004 election, the Green Party of Canada had one staff person," he points out. Before that, he says "it was an entirely volunteer organization. Since the 2004 election, we've built up a core team of about 20 people, and like everybody else, we bring on extra during an election."
In the 2000 election, the party spent just more than $17,000 for the election. In 2004, despite a limit of more than $17.5 million, the party spent $489,179. Although Langlois won't say how much they plan to spend, or what they'll spend it on, he does say it will make a difference. "We're not going to spend the legal limit," he points out, since the limit is more than $18 million. "It means an ability to actually pay for a leader's tour, on our own scale, of course. We aren't doing too much flying around in private jets or leasing buses, but we are able to get our leader across the country."
Langlois says the financial benefit isn't the only upside. He says the new rules mean every vote counts. "It is a value to every Canadian voter to know that this new financing fixes some of the previous discrepancies that existed in our political system because of money," he says. "But we still have a concern that some of the parties are shut out of the system," because of the requirement to earn a minimum percentage of the popular vote in order to qualify for funding.