British Columbia’s political parties currently get paid for every vote they receive.
The subsidy, formerly at $2.50, right now sits at $1.75 per vote, and a committee of B.C. MLAs is considering whether to scrap the financing plan once and for all by September.
The justification for subsidies for political parties is actually based on a reasonably sensible foundation.
The idea is that political parties should be less beholden to big-dollar donors, like corporations or large unions.
When someone who gave your party a cool couple million dollars doesn’t like a particular piece of legislation, they obviously have a lot of sway with whatever set of legislators are in power. That means private interests can more easily overpower the public good.
But there are practical problems. First, since the cash is based on votes, it means the party in power gets a baked-in fundraising advantage.
It also shuts out insurgent parties, and this is a province that has been re-built and reshaped time and again by our ability to throw the bums out and give power to a whole new party!
(Only to throw them out on their ear a generation later. What goes around comes around.)
Do you think the B.C. Liberals would have been in favour of per-vote funding back before 1991? Or would the NDP or Social Credit have favoured them back in the 1940s, when they were smaller, struggling parties in the shadow of the Liberals and Conservatives who ran the province?
Most importantly, getting rid of big dollar donors and their influence is easily done by limiting donations – and fortunately, we have already accomplished that goal.
Corporations and unions are now banned from donating to campaigns outright, and individual donations are capped to just $1,268 per person. Even a billionaire determined to spread his influence around the province, flinging money at campaign after campaign, could barely muster up more than the cost of a brand new tricked-out pickup truck before maxing out on allowable donations completely.
With big money out, there’s no need for public funding. Let the parties run lean and meet in church basements and legion halls. They can go door knocking every election – it’s free.
In fact, if the government wants to spend money per vote to strengthen democracy, why not turn the formulation around?
Give every voter who shows up and marks a ballot a shiny toonie.
Surely that would foster more interest in democracy than giving the money to parties that desperately want power?