When longtime New Democrat supporter William Giesbrecht passed away in Vancouver in December, 2011, his obituary included a lengthy tribute from local New Democrat MP Libby Davies, who lauded him as a World War II veteran, postal worker and union activist who "donated generously to every cause imaginable, especially those that fought for social justice."
That generosity continued even after death.
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On June 19, 2012, the NDP recorded a bequest of nearly $300,000 from Giesbrecht's estate.
Under the Conservatives' proposed changes to the election financing rules, however, such demonstrations of post-death partisan loyalty would no longer be possible — at least, not beyond the contribution limits imposed on living supporters.
'If these individuals weren't allowed to donate large amounts when alive, it shouldn't suddenly change upon their passing'- Gabrielle Renaud-Mattey, spokeswoman for Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre
Instead, "testamentary contributions" would be capped at $1,500 — or, $1,500 per year if paid out annually through a continuing trust.
Judging from past election flings, the move to crack down on the potential for undue political influence by the recently deceased is likely to be felt most keenly by the New Democrats, who have collected nearly $1 million in bequests since 2007, including $50,000 from the estate of the party's late leader, Jack Layton, in 2012.
By comparison, the combined testamentary revenue stream for the Liberals and the Conservatives over the same time period was slightly less than $100,000, with the bulk of those donations falling somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000.
The NDP website even has a special section on the party's "legacy donor program" that provides advice on how to remember the party after death, including "sample will clauses" covering one-time gifts, either as lump sums or a percentage of the estate, as well as continuing trust and other post-death payment plans.
"A gift left to Canada’s New Democrat’s through an estate can be unlimited," it notes.
"A legacy gift is not subject to the $1,200 per individual annual donation so it is a very significant way to contribute to the work and future of the Party," it adds.
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"Obviously, we're disappointed, as we have made efforts to raise money this way," NDP federal director Nathan Rotman told CBC News.
Still, he takes a pragmatic approach to the change.
"We will follow the rules as always, and are quite confident about our fundraising growth."
According to a spokesperson for Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre, the change is intended to "ensure a uniform application of the contribution limits, without exceptions."
"If these individuals weren't allowed to donate large amounts when alive, it shouldn't suddenly change upon their passing," said Gabrielle Renaud-Mattey.
It's difficult to say just how the standard arguments in favour of strict donation limits applies to contributors who have shuffled off the mortal coil, given that as far as we know, they no longer hold a vested interest in the outcome of an election, or the stance a party might take on a particular issue, and have little cause and no actual means of using the promise of future financial favour to apply untoward pressure on political actors.
It's worth noting the exemption for legacy gifts survived the last major attempt to rewrite the election financing laws via the Conservatives' much-vaunted Accountability Act, which substantially lowered donation limits initially set by the outgoing Liberal government from $5,000 to $1,000, but left the existing estate exemption untouched.
Given that apparent lack of concern, it's worth asking what concerns have subsequently arisen that would justify a crackdown on contributions from the dearly departed.
UPDATE: Although the parties haven't yet filed annual reports for 2013, the quarterly returns submitted by the NDP show that the party took in a whopping $700,000 in testamentary contributions last year, including a single gift of $600,000 from the estate of Peter Kirk Sinclair.
As for the other parties, the Conservatives reported a single bequest of $2,000.
Bequests to political parties, 2007-2012
New Democratic Party of Canada
- $38,985.07 (Estate of Barbara Armitage)
- $20,844.44 (Estate of Ronald R. Clark)
- $5,193.94 (Estate of George Harold Pickel)
- $1,156.37 (Estate of Doreen Mary Hazlett)
- $10,000 (Estate of Sameer Anton Salloomi)
- $3,900 (Estate of Theresa C. Baxter)
- $2,000 (Estate of Frances Ellis)
- $210,857.87 (Estate of Ruth Millicent Hass)
- $6,183.78 (Estate of Ronald Reginald Clark)
- $5,000 (Estate of Theresa C. Baxter)
- $85,000 (Estate of Anne Murray Powell)
- $25,000 (Estate of Nancy J. Gloger)
- $6,562.05 (Estateof Cameron Colin Mclean
- $4,145,42 (Estate of Ruth Millicent Hass)
- $2,500 (Estate of Theresa C. Baxter)
- $296,164.35 (Estate of William Giesbrecht)
- $50,000 (Estate of Jack Layton)
- $23,000 (Estate of Anne Murray Powell)
- $11,417.81 (Estate of Mary Catherine Moore)
- $3,000 (Estate of Theresa C. Baxter)
- $1,109.03 (Estate of Thomas Robinson)
- $600,000 (Estate of Peter Kirk Sinclair)
- $70,000 (Estate of Charles William MacDonald)
- $34,188.17 (Estate of William Giesbrecht)
- $24,052.64 (Estate of Anne Murral Powell)
- $12,000 (Estate of Dennis Kershaw)
- $10,000 (Estate of Charles William MacDonald)
- $5,882 (Estate of Lillian Piluk)
- $2,500 (Estate of Ethel Coffin)
Conservative Party of Canada
- $3,000 (Estate of Doris Alma Parker)
- $3,000 (Estate of John Andrew Hunter Barry)
- $20,000 (Estate of Gordon Bruce McLeod)
- $2,000 (Estate of Edith Kamermans)
Liberal Party of Canada
- $2,500 (Estate of Charlotte Drolet Dionne)
- $5,000 (Estate of Katherine Schwartz)
- $20,000 (Estate of Beatrice E. Hall) (NOTE: Directed contribution to leadership campaign of Martha Hall Findlay)
- $5,000 (Estate of Margaret Isabel Wilton)
Source: Elections Canada