Monday, November 16, 2009

Politics and freedom

Here's a letter I wrote which appears in the Ottawa Hill Times. It's my response to a column by Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch who supports using public money to subsidize political parties.

Dear Sir/Madam:

In his column (“Secret donations damage Canadian politics” Nov. 9) Duff Conacher reveals why his group, Democracy Watch, needs a new name.

From what he recommended regarding political donations, democracy doesn’t seem to be his main priority.

After all, Conacher supports the idea of forcing Canadians to subsidize political parties through their tax dollars.

That’s nothing but a “welfare for politicians” scheme, and it’s wrong.

Like every other private organization, political parties should rely on voluntary contributions. Compelling taxpayers to finance parties they don’t support is clearly undemocratic.

As Thomas Jefferson once put it, “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.”

And Conacher’s other idea -- to severely limit what individuals can contribute to political parties -- is also undemocratic.

For one thing, government should not have the right to tell me what I can do with my own money?

For another thing, stopping me from contributing my own money to a political party of my own choice is an infringement on my right to free expression.

So forget the name “Democracy Watch”; a better name for Conacher’s group might be “Socialist Watch.”

3 comments:

Kerry Forrest said...

They seriously stand there on this issue? You are so right, Gerry, that is not democracy they are watching for.

I just love that old argument, that it is somehow unfair that a party can collect more donations than others. If a party is doing right by its supporters, they will donate, if not, they won't.

People love to say its unfair that the CPC has so many rich supporters, that they donate more because they are rich.

I'll be honest, I'm working hard but I am far from rich, but it does strike me as no coincidence that the major party most supportive of free markets and capitalism has followers that donate more because they are also free market and capitalists, making the best of this system.

Of course, it is not surprising parties that support methods of wealth redistribution outside of capitalism would also support redistributing wealth to their parties in this way.

Old School Liberal said...

The outrage of conservatives over the per vote subsidy would be credible if there was any effort or outrage over the much larger and much more anti-democratic tax deduction subsidy.

At least there is a modicum of democracy with the per vote subisidy: get the support, get the dollar ninety-five.

For every, $25 you donate to a political party, Canadian taxpayers pay that party a subsidy of $75. That's a heck of a lot more than $1.95.

With the tax deduction subsidy, those who support the Liberals, NDP or Bloc or no one actually end up subsidizing the Conservatives. No wonder conservatives don't attack it. Anti-democratic, costs way way more and helps the conservatives. A no brainer for Harper.

Worse, since the tax deduction is 75%, political donations take money away from charitable donations which only get a 50% deduction.

Taxpayers subsidize our democracy in many different ways. Some are good (eg. funding the Parliamentary research library, paying for constituency offices and offices in Parliament), some are bad (per vote subsidy) and some are very bad (tax deduction subsidy).

Anonymous said...

Gerry, your (and Kerry's and Old School Liberal's) responses to my op-ed would be more credible if they were accurate. See the op-ed at:
http://www.dwatch.ca/camp/OpEdNov0409.html

and see my op-ed from last November (yes, one year before the Frontier Centre's report you claim is the reason for the recent attention paid to this issue) that more directly addresses this issue at:
http://www.dwatch.ca/camp/OpEdNov3008.html

As you will see, Democracy Watch agrees that the public subsidy should be decreased, and that party funding should be mainly based on individual donations.

However, you and Gerry are both misleading readers when you claim that the federal system that provides annually public financing of $1.95 per vote received to federal political parties
compels "taxpayers to finance parties they don't support".

In fact, $1.95 of the total taxes each voter pays each year goes only to whichever party the voter supported with his/her vote. If you don't vote, then none of your taxes goes to support any of the parties.

Overall, if the public funding was lowered (not eliminated, it (combined with the relatively low federal limit on donations by each voter) would combined be a very democratic system because it is based on votes received and therefore complies with the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote.

If you believe in that principle, you want funding to be based on actual voter support, so that no one can use money to have more influence than anyone else during election campaigns, or in between elections.

Sincerely,
Duff Conacher, Coordinator
Democracy Watch