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The Insiders: Party financing

Stephen Harper has reiterated his intention to eliminate the current public financing for federal political parties if re-elected.   

If he is serious about reforming Canada's system of political financing, he should appoint either a multi-partisan Parliamentary committee or an independent commission to study the issue and make recommendations to Parliament. 

If he simply proceeds with a government bill to eliminate the current public financing, we can know that he is only interested in securing advantage for the Conservative Party. 

No election financing change has ever been made in Canada with the support of only the
government party. The best history of electoral reform in this country is one of multi-partisan processes and a search for consensus. The 1974 Election Expenses law brought in by Pierre Trudeau was based on a Royal Commission, a federal task force, and an all-party consensus. 

Canadians should insist on no less at this time. Money is fundamental to the functioning of our democracy, and the underlying premise of all reforms from 1974 to now has been to bring parity to the parties so that the party with more money did not automatically win. The 1974 law accomplished this through restricting the amount that parties could spend.

Seven years ago Jean Chretien radically changed the rules around contributing to political parties by restricting donations to a maximum of $5,000 and replaced those donations with a public subsidy.

Mr. Harper has subsequently reduced it further to $1,000. Under these rules, at the present time at least, the Conservative Party is able to raise significantly more money than its governing alternative, the Liberal Party.  The Liberal Party is only able to be competitive through the public financing. Is this because the Conservatives are many more times popular than the Liberals? We know that is not true -- the Conservatives are only marginally more popular. Is it because the Liberals are incompetent and the Conservatives are brilliant? Not likely either.

It is likely that there are more fundamental reasons that need to be understood before changes are made that could change the balance of power in Canadian politics. This is important because the changes that Mr. Harper proposes would ensure the political dominance of the Conservative Party.

The government of the day should no more be able to set political financing rules that benefit its party than it should be able to arbitrarily write new riding boundaries. That's called gerrymandering, and it is part of our political past, but not our present, and should not be part of our future.

Any reforms to political financing should be the result of a non-partisan consideration of how best to run our democracy, not the result of the political calculations of the party in power.