(This op-ed by Paige MacPherson, the Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, was published in the Calgary Sun on August 18, 2016.)
When you walk outside and your mailbox is stuffed with glossy, annoying, partisan junk mail, you know it’s election season. Like most Canadians, you probably roll your eyes and think: what a waste of paper and money.
Alberta’s NDP government now wants you to be the one to waste that money.
Those nasty, silly attack ads that clutter your airwaves? They want you to pay for them, too.
On a sleepy, summer day in the legislature, NDP MLA Rod Loyola proposed a motion in committee to have taxpayers rebate 50 per cent of campaign expenses for political parties and candidates that receive at least 10 per cent of the vote.
Loyola told Rob Breakenridge on Newstalk 770 that caucus supports the idea, meaning with the NDP majority, it’s more or less a done deal.
It’s bad policy. Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for partisan campaigning.
It raises an obvious conundrum: by reimbursing politicians for 50 per cent of the money they spend, we’d be incentivizing them to spend more – thereby costing taxpayers more.
The NDP government has suggested a solution: capping party spending.
But if individuals choose to donate their money to a party (not businesses or unions, because those donations were already banned), with the intention of having that party spend it campaigning, then why should the government interfere? That’s democracy in action, and it’s totally voluntary.
Spending caps are an attempted solution to a problem created by forcing taxpayers to subsidize entrenched political parties. Here’s a crazy idea: don’t create the problem in the first place.
A subsidy to political parties is a particularly jaw-dropping suggestion when the province is facing a $14 billion deficit and over 100,000 Albertans have been laid off. Calgary businesses are dropping like flies; Alberta’s unemployment rate is now higher than Nova Scotia’s; and the province’s credit rating has been repeatedly downgraded.
Yet the priority of the government is to stuff the coffers of political parties?
Apparently under the dome it’s not struggling taxpayers or small businesses or families who need a break. It’s political parties and politicians who need a hand up.
A similar subsidy exists elsewhere in Canada and at the federal level, but that doesn’t change that it’s the wrong thing to do.
Political parties already benefit from generous tax credits for donations. If an Albertan family donates $200 to a political party, they get 75 per cent back. If they donate $200 to a charity, they get only 25 per cent back.
Mr. Loyola has claimed the party bailout would “level the playing field.”
If anything, this subsidy would strangle smaller political parties who typically receive less than 10 per cent of the vote, giving an unfair upper hand to the big guys, using purely involuntary money.
That could be one reason why Alberta Party leader Greg Clark opposes it.
Mr. Loyola warned on the radio that if we don’t subsidize political parties, we’ll get something like – wait for it – DONALD TRUMP.
Are Albertans expected to buy that nonsense?
Campaign donations are already capped at $15,000, so it’s not as if some billionaire could swoop in and steal an election here.
Perhaps Mr. Loyola is relying on buzzwords and scare tactics to avoid facing the reality that this policy would be a ridiculous waste of taxpayer dollars.
It’s difficult to think of any less important use of tax dollars than shrill partisan campaign ads.
Political parties should stand on their own merits in the battle of ideas. Politicians already have massive advantages over charities to help them to fundraise, without forcing taxpayers to bail them out.