Subsidizing Canada’s Break-Up On The Public Dime: Public subsidies and the Bloc Quebecois

Commentary, Quebec, Taxation

When the three parliamentary opposition parties almost toppled the Conservatives one year ago, the ostensible reason was the lack of a fiscal stimulus; the more likely irritation was the Tory threat to remove public subsidies for political parties. One year on, the Liberals and New Democrats should re-think their support for such subsidies; while receiving such money is in their short-term interest, it works against their long-term chances in Quebec, where public subsidies provide artificial life support to the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

 Since 2000, the Bloc has raised just $6.5 million in direct private donations (the only kind now allowed after  union and corporate giving were banned in 2004). But the Bloc received $33.4 million in public subsidies through election expense reimbursements and “allowances”—subsidies paid out every quarter based on votes gained in the last election.
In total dollars, most other political parties take more from taxpayers: According to Elections Canada from which I’ve summarized the data, since 2000, the Liberals received $111 million, the Tories garnered almost $104 million, and the NDP and Greens reaped $63 million and almost $9 million respectively.  But compared to the Bloc, those parties are also more successful at raising money from individual Canadians.
That success becomes obvious when the ratio of donor dollars to subsidized dollars is calculated.
For example, since 2000, the Liberals have received $1.96 in public subsidies  for every one dollar they raised privately. The ratio for the NDP and Greens is $1.46 and $1.72. The Conservatives take in only $1.10 in subsidies for every one dollar given by a donor.
As for the Bloc, their public subsidy lifeline—thrown to them voluntarily by the parties that support taxpayer financing for partisans—means that between 2000 and mid-2009, the break-up-Canada party took $5.13 in taxpayer cash for every single dollar it raised privately. (Divide the Bloc’s $33.4 million in subsidies divided by its $6.5 million in private donations). Even when financial transfers from Bloc riding associations to headquarters are factored in (another $2-million), that bumps up the Bloc’s private take to just $8.5 million. The ratio in that latter calculation is $3.91 in public money for every privately-raised dollar. That’s still much higher than the ratio for other parties.
In total, since 2000, political parties and their candidates have reaped $330-million from the public treasury. Most of that ($305 million) was handed over since the 2004 reforms to the Elections Act which, while banning corporate and union donations, also made election-time reimbursements more generous and added quarterly allowances for the parties.
Some argue this helps democracy. Not quite. Such subsidies lessen the pressure to raise money from individual Canadians, the very people political parties claim to represent.
That disconnect is bad enough, but there’s another unintended consequence from public subsidies: how they allow the separatists to win more federal seats in Quebec than they otherwise might with a much smaller budget dependent solely on donations.
Cast a glance back at the numbers: Imagine the financial constrictions the Bloc would have faced in the four federal elections since 2000 with just $8.5 million in individual donations. Consider how many fewer leaflets it would have sent to Quebecers, how much less dishonest research it would have pumped out (Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe once told me Quebec was a net fiscal contributor to the rest of Canada!).
Ask yourself how much more difficult the Bloc’s anti-Canada message would have been to get out on just $8.5 million over nine years (plus whatever it could scrape together from unions and business before the 2004 changes). Instead, the rest of us helped out with an extra $33.4 million from the public purse.
The 2008 election was a perfect illustration of how this artificial life support for separatism works. Last year, the Bloc took in just $1.4 million in direct donations and transfers from ridings; even the Greens raised more, at $1.7 million. But in 2008, the Bloc was helped along with $7.9 million in public subsidies. That allowed them to heavily advertise in an election, staff their party machine and lobby for Canada’s destruction—mostly at everyone else’s expense.