When governments want to release information that they must but would prefer not to, media outlets will usually receive a news release late on Friday. This is often too late for not only newspapers with stories then in the editing phase, but also for television where the evening news line-up is already “in the can.” And, even though Internet news can technically be updated 24-7, even then, most media organizations will maintain only minimal staffing outside the regular news day.
That reality and government awareness of the same makes one wonder why, on the last Friday in July, Elections Canada chose to release the latest information on political party finances as late in the day as was possible for an Ottawa bureaucrat—3:30 pm Eastern. About that time in Ottawa is when most civil servants are already on the local transit bus headed away from work.
The timing, especially when combined with a long weekend, was curious. Perhaps it has something to do with all the fuss last fall over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s plan to end federal political party subsidies—worth $313 million since the 2000 election. One chief proponent of such subsidies has been Elections Canada itself, at least under its former head, Jean-Pierre Kingsley. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Kingsley’s views are still shared at the non-partisan election office. Thus, if a bias still exists post-Kingsley, it might explain why Elections Canada doesn’t want to draw attention to the fact that political parties are doing just fine in raising money without taxpayer assistance.
The pre-long weekend Friday financial reports were illuminating. They revealed a number of useful items that have the potential to affect the debate over political subsidies within Canada.
Most notably, in the April to June period, (i.e., the second quarter) the federal Liberals raised just over $4-million, mostly from 19,487 individual contributors. (Unions and corporations can no longer donate to federal political parties.) Only $175,000 of that amount came from riding associations. Overall, the Liberals did much better in the most recent quarter than in the first quarter when they took in $1.8 million from 15,230 individuals (with barely $26,000 coming from riding associations).
Meanwhile, the Conservatives raked in almost $4-million from 35,217 individuals in the second quarter (with no transfers from ridings); that’s down from 39,432 people who gave that party over $4.3 million in the first three months of this year but still healthy.
The minor parties also did well. New Democrats took in just over $700,000 from 11,171 Canadians (and required nothing from local riding associations) in the April-June period; that ‘s up from almost $600,000 in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, the tiny Green party managed to raise $194,000 in the second quarter compared to about $216,000 in the first quarter, with negligible amounts transferred from riding associations. In each three-month period, the Greens had roughly 2,900 individual contributions.
The anomaly in the Elections Canada data is the separatist Bloc Quebecois. That Quebec-only party received about $199,000 in the second quarter. Curiously though, little of that money came from individual donations—only $69,000 from 908 contributors, while the rest came as a result of transfers from candidates (almost $108,000) and $22,000 from riding associations.
Given many of the Bloc individual donations are often funnelled through riding associations, the number of individual Bloc contributors can sometimes be underestimated. Still, the overall amount raised by the separatist party from all sources in the first and second quarters combined was only $312,000; that’s about $100,000 less in the two combined quarters than even the Green party. And the Green party, despite being national, has a lot less visibility and zero Members in Parliament.
Last autumn, when the Conservatives suggested dumping political party subsidies in their fall economic update, the effect was unify the Liberals, NDP and Bloc into a coalition against the government.
With hindsight, and the fact Elections Canada data reveals how every major party save the Bloc has a significant individual donor base, a new, temporary parliamentary coalition on one issue might be in order. So here’s a modest proposal: the Tories, Liberals and NDP should work together to end political party subsidies for all parties—a sensible policy clearly now in their favour but not the Bloc’s.
Should that happen, the three main parties could survive, unlike the Bloc which would have much trouble making trouble in pursuit of its goal to break up Canada. That’s reason enough for a new coalition, and this time in favour of the country’s unity.