Chretien's corporate cash counting
doesn't add up

Ottawa - Thursday, January 23, 2003 - by: Walter Robinson, Federal Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation


Campaign finance reform is in the news with the Prime Minister following through on his Throne Speech commitment - hey, thereís a first time for everything - to remove 'big moneyî' from Canadian politics.




Pundits and cynics - who are usually one and the same - have rightly noted the irony of this political deathbed conversion from a man who has thrived for almost four decades in public life with more than a little help from corporate Canada.




This issue yields some fundamental questions. Is big money perverting the democratic process and public priorities? The Prime Minister's disciples would have us believe that this is a burning national issue. If so, itís strange how it doesnít seem to register as a top ten priority in any national public opinion polls. We have to ask why businesses and unions - whose donations the Prime Minister plans to ban - contribute to political candidates and parties.


The official line is that they believe in supporting the democratic process. However, there is no doubt that such donations are also perceived to improve oneís chances to gain access to and influence with politicians . . . not to mention improving the odds of receiving government grants, subsidies or legitimate tendering opportunities.




Hereís a novel idea: the quickest way to diminish corporate and union chequebook financing of political parties would occur if we simply ended the practice of corporate welfare and industrial subsidies.




Is public financing of election campaigns better than special interest financing? Part and parcel of the Prime Minister's proposed reforms would be to end donations from corporate and union sources and replace them with a compensatory public (read: taxpayer) subsidy. However, taxpayers already subsidize federal political candidates and parties - an abhorrent practice as Thomas Jefferson once observed - to the tune of $15 million. Adding another $10 million or so to this tally makes no sense. Transparency is not improved and we just end up paying more.




The Prime Minister's proposed formula would allocate taxpayers money to political parties in direct proportion to the amount of votes received in the previous election. Even a young child can see the inherent unfairness in such a proposal that further entrenches the ruling and established parties.




Weíve seen this perversion work in individual candidate rebate schemes where over 97% of those receiving cheques from taxpayers in the last three elections were not outsiders to the process, they were members of the five major parties.




Is the Prime Minister correct in threatening a confidence vote on this issue? Brinksmanship is a dangerous game to play. If the media reports inferring that the Prime Minister doesn't give a darn because he wonít have to face the electorate again are correct, then his walk in the snow should occur immediately. If these reports are not correct, then the Prime Minister should set the record straight.




Bullying a political caucus - or any organization - to adopt a position, is not a hallmark of leadership; it is an admission of abject failure. If the Prime Minister is sincere in wanting to really change the election finance regime, he should end corporate welfare, abolish taxpayer subsidies to candidates and parties and change the tax credit regime to end political contribution tax credits entirely.




Think about it . . . if you donate to the United Way, the local cancer centre, a mental health facility or an AIDS hospice, and you receive a 16% tax credit. But if you stroke a cheque to a political party, bingo, hereís your 75% tax credit.




What does this say for Canada when our tax system effectively says your donation to Jean Chretien or Paul Martin is more valuable than a gift to fight childhood leukemia, spousal abuse or everyday community building efforts?
  Walter Robinson
Federal Director
  PM to unveil political financing bill next week, January 23, CTV News
  PM ready to ban corporate contributions, December 21, 2002


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