Harper government moving to end party subsidies

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    May 21, 2011 8:06 PM GMT
    Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government will move quickly to cut the financial legs out from under its political opponents by moving to end the per-vote party subsidy in its June budget, Postmedia News has learned.

    "We want political parties to raise funds directly from their supporters and not the taxpayers. So as soon as we can get that passed, that process will begin," Democratic Reform Minister Tim Uppal told Postmedia news.

    Uppal said he couldn't discuss whether the government plans a weaning-off process for political parties. He said ministers were "still finalizing all these things."

    Sources say the subsidy, however, will be phased out over time.

    Political parties receive a large part of their funding through a subsidy of $2 per year for every vote cast in their favour in the last federal election.

    Last year, the Conservatives received $10,430,835 in subsidies, the Liberals $7,275,227, the NDP $5,036,707, the Bloc Quebecois $2,763,345 and the Green party $1,877,513.

    NDP leader Jack Layton said his party supports government subsidies because it keeps "big money" out of politics.

    "If it passes, we will adapt to the reality (and) we will reorganize accordingly but it does make it more difficult for the democratic process really to thrive and puts money at the forefront of politics, where it should not be," Layton said.

    Liberal MP Marc Garneau, who's running for the party's interim leadership, told Postmedia News the Liberals would vote against the measure.

    "It will require us to find alternative means of funding ourselves," he said, adding that the Liberals would have to "deal with that reality" in terms of their fundraising abilities.

    Some suggest the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois are in the toughest position now: they not only lost a large chunk of their per-vote funding because of their poor election showing, but they also lost the use of many taxpayer-funded staff due to their diminished numbers in the House of Commons.

    "We want political parties to raise funds directly from their supporters and not the taxpayers. So as soon as we can get that passed, that process will begin," - Democratic Reform Minister Tim Uppal.

    Garneau said he believes it is worth discussing whether individual contribution limits, which are set at $1,100 each for party and riding associations, should now be raised. The limits were reduced after Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien introduced government subsidies as a way of creating a level playing field between parties.

    Chretien also ended corporate and union subsidies - which both Garneau and Layton said should still be banned.

    Harper told voters during the election if his government was returned with a majority he would end the per-vote subsidy - something he tried to do in 2008 before facing the wrath of an opposition coalition.

    "Taxpayers shouldn't have to support political parties that they don't support," he said. "I wanted to change this but . . . unless we have a majority government we will never attempt to change it because we know that in a minority government you could never move this forward."

    Democracy Watch co-ordinator Duff Conacher said Harper was "lying" and no Canadian has ever paid to support a party for which they didn't vote.

    "When you vote, that $2 goes to that party and everyone pays more than $2 in taxes a year," he said.

    Conacher called the per-vote subsidy the "most democratic part" of the federal political funding system since it is actually based on voter support and encourages electors to vote. He said individual donations should actually be lowered because few Canadians can afford to donate $2,200 a year.

    According to unofficial figures from Elections Canada, the public subsidy to political parties following the last election could be worth at least $29.5 million a year.

    Party allocations are delivered quarterly and the next cheque for April, May and June will be cut on July 1, but the results of the May 2 election won't be reflected until the Sept. 30 payments.

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    May 21, 2011 8:21 PM GMT
    Just a teeny step towards Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.