He Haunts Them Still


Elections Canada released its quarterly fundraising figures today, and it is pretty grim for the Libs. Following the established pattern, the Tories raised about $3.5 million from almost 34 000 donors, while the Liberals raised just over $900k from 9500 (!!!) donors. In short, the Liberals have still not figured out how to raise money since Jean Chretien introduced the “dumb as a bag of hammers” financing reforms.

Yes, Chretien screwed his party good, he did. Forget Gritlock… Chretien laid the groundwork for Torylock, a situation where the Liberals can’t even get it together to fight an election, let alone win one.

What is interesting about this the the role the sponsorship scandal in all of this. Historians will debate the wisdom or principle that underlay Paul Martin’s decision to call the Gomery inquiry. But it appears that Chretien’s own fears about the way the sponsorship fallout would tarnish his much-valued legacy played a major role in his decision to not only put a cap on political donations, but to ban corporate and union decisions as well.

Details to come in the morning, but here’s tomorrow’s debating point: Forget the “natural governing party”, Jean Chretien’s desire to preserve his own legacy has led, through many vectors, to the almost total disintegration of the Liberal Party of Canada as a truly national political party.

UPDATE: Here are the details. I don’t know about you, but I find this amazingly juicy:

The decision to outlaw corporate donations was pushed on Mr. Chrétien by Alex Himmelfarb, then clerk of the Privy Council.

The Liberal government had drafted one bill that set tighter limits on political donations and another that included donation limits and a ban on corporate and union contributions.

There was heated debate on the merits of both, but, at the end of the day, Mr. Himmelfarb’s position prevailed, largely because the bolder course was seen as a way to bolster Mr. Chrétien’s flagging reputation, tainted at the time by the sponsorship scandal


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He Haunts Them Still

  1. ‘total disintegration of the Liberal Party of Canada’

    From your lips to God’s ears.

    I think it’s too early to predict this but I hope you are correct. The Liberals have many supporters, surely they will get use to donating money to the party.

    But who knows, maybe supporters got used to receiving, not giving, cash and now they have to start supporting party they will stop voting Liberal and instead vote for party that more accurately reflects their beliefs.

  2. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Corporations don’t vote, but they can corrupt. Unions don’t vote, but they can corrupt. Citizens vote, and with some reasonable upper annual limit, they cannot corrupt.
    If the only way the Liberals (NDP) can survive is by being in bed with corporations (unions), let them either adjust or die. (An)other party(ies) that will hopefully appeal to a large number of Canadians will take their place(s). Already it seems the NDP is doing better than the Liberals.
    Final point: governments don’t vote, and yet the federal government is a primary supporter of the federal parties! That’s insane. If corporations should not contribute on behalf of shareholders who might disagree, and if unions cannot contribute on behalf of union members who might disagree, can anyone explain the morality of forced contributions from taxpayers?

  3. I don’t know about disintegration but I cannot understand for the life of me why the LPC hasn’t been able to convert to grassroots fundraising. Fundraising consultants who are experts in the matter are a dime a dozen in Ottawa. This isn’t rocket science. What gives?

  4. Hmm. I wonder if the Liberal’s challenges lie in the nature of their supports… some recent polls have shown that many of the current supporters of the Liberal party are not very interested in their leader or even their policies, but want to avoid a Conservative government.

    Perhaps the “anything but conservative” movement is less willing to put their money where their mouth is than genuine supporters of the Liberals?

  5. Potter, what’s your objection to the ban on corporate donations?

  6. I have a question. Why would a suggestion about party fundraising come from our top bureaucrat. It’s not that I find it suspicious, I guess I just don’t know enough about our government to understand the link.

  7. From my own personal experiences working with people active in Liberal Party – they are often lazy and delusional. I think they spend more time and effort raising money to maintain there hundreds of committees and policy conventions than towards raising money for a national campaign (or to pay back leadership debts).

  8. they are often lazy and delusional

    Ya, that sounds objective…

  9. If the LPC is not in the habit of peppering its membership with fundraising letters, it might explain their issue. I’m on a distribution list for about half a dozen charity group and I receive tons of such letters. This is how you raise money from the grassroots. Holding fundraising parties isn’t going to be sufficient. The article that Potter is quoting says that the LPC didn’t even have a centralized membership list.

    I don’t think that the problem is people’s willingness to give. It sounds like the problem is that they are not being asked in the most effective way.

    If that is the reason, the Libs will need a miracle to win the next election and/or stay afloat.

  10. Dennis: It wasn’t a suggestion about party fundraising so much as it was about the laws governing party fundraising. The latter would have been entirely within Himmelfarb’s remit.

  11. MadeYouLook I agree wholeheartedly with you about taxpayers having to support political parties. I think it’s outrageous that my tax $$$ go to prop up political parties. Parties don’t have a right to exist, if their supporters stop supporting them than bye-bye.

    I think it’s interesting that Liberals still can’t raise money. It’s not like the law was changed 6 months ago and they are still figuring out the changes. I think the unpaid loans that were incurred in last leadership convention speaks volumes, particularly Dion’s outstanding debt.

  12. The reason the Cons are better at fundraising than the Liberals is because the entirety of their existence in the past 15 years (20 for Harper’s crowd) has been devoted to figuring out how to gain power. They, enlike the Liberals, haven’t been encumbered with the burden of governing, and hav ebeen instead been able to focus their energies on appealing to voters, raising money etc.

  13. My theory as to one of the dynamics at play here is that many potential Liberal donors don’t much care if the LPC ceases to exist. After all, they could then fairly easily shift their “support” to the NDP or Greens. So long as there is an anti-Harper Party out there, the lefties can adapt, and carry on.

    On the other hand, there is more of a sense of urgency on the right. We have got to keep the CPC alive and competitive. There’s no Party B out there for us.

  14. Well, Mark, it seemed to me to be a suggestion about which policy proposal was most preferable. And, at least according to the article, the context was about preserving Chretien’s legacy.

    Now, again, I don’t know enough about how our government works to know if these nuances matter. But I thought that it was the job of the bureaucracy to advise on things like implementation, rather than things like political choice or possibly calculation.

  15. That threw me too, because the way this is written seems to suggest that Himmelfarb was pushing his version for political reasons, but on closer read it doesn’t say actually say that, only that his option was adopted by the politicos for how it would play electorally.

    According to his job description, he’s supposed to provide advice to the government: presumably, if the government at the time wanted to tighten fundraising rules, it would make sense for him to present to them what he felt was the best option.

  16. Baloneyman has it about 25% right. The Liberals were indeed in power, and under the old rules they didn’t need to fundraise, corporate donations fell from the sky into their laps. They could then rely on Star and Globe writers to make up stories about how the PC’s and then CPC’s were beholden to corporations.

  17. “it would make sense for him to present to them what he felt was the best option.”

    Based on what criteria? Is he supposed to make a judgement on what form of legislation would work best? I thought that, too, was a political judgement.

  18. Padraic: Who says I object to the ban on corporate donations?

  19. Dennis

    I think Liberals and Conservatives see the role of bureaucracy differently. Libs seem to encourage the bureaucrats to give advice whereas Cons want them to follow orders.

    I prefer the Conservative belief, they are there to follow orders, to implement policy.

  20. JWL:

    That is not at all what the civil service is there for and never in the history of bureaucracies is it there simply to take orders. They aren’t soldiers (though many are); they are, especially at the senior levels, experts in their fields providing advice.

    Jim Flaherty is not an expert on the ins and outs of, say, bank or insurance company regulation. Ultimately, he will make a decision that affects them, but he needs his civil service to tell him about the industry, changes they think are needed in the laws and rules, whether certain transactions requiring Ministerial approval are proper or not. Most of this advice is not even political in the sense of left or right. Ultimately it is the Minister’s (or the PMs) decision, but it is ludicrous to think that a bunch of professional politicians have all of the knowledge and experience and expertise to ignore the advice of the civil servants.

    The mistake Conservatives always make is that – in thinking that all government is bad and wasteful and therefore all who are in government are bad and wasteful – they ignore all good advice for fear that some of it may be tainted by some chance of partisanship.

  21. I’m not disputing the role that the civil service has in advising the government. I’m just trying to ascertain the nature of this advice.

    The article could be interpreted to suggest that Himmelfarb was involved in matters of political judgement.

    So, if he did put forth a certain option as being best, what criteria would he have been using?

    It seems to me that deeming one policy option as better than another must include some level of political judgement. No?

    Or was his advice based solely on considerations of bureaucratic implementation?

  22. Hey Ted : I have to disagree with one of your points: The mistake Conservatives always make is that – in thinking that all government is bad and wasteful and therefore all who are in government are bad and wasteful – they ignore all good advice for fear that some of it may be tainted by some chance of partisanship????? : First I am a Conservative and second I am Civil Servant (though sometimes referred to as an uncivil servant however I digress): Conservative philosphy by no means states that all government is bad – by it’s very nature gov’t is neutral neither good or bad, it just is, however it does have a tendency to become big, wasteful and concerned with it’s own agenda and can become bad! Conservitive philosphy realizes this tendency and applies tension to the process so that it wll not become as bad as it would be if simply left to it’s own devices and rightly so. Advice from someone in the Civil Service should be taken just as that advice plain and simple it may be good or it may be bad but whatever the advice you have to keep in perspective that there are times when it has it’s own agenda such as resistance to change = and don’t get me wrong here it should be resistant to change after all it is or at least should be responsible to the taxpayer and use it’s resources wisely and for the benefit of all canadians.

  23. For what it is worth, I don’t think those numbers above for the Liberal Party includes any of the fundraising dollars to pay off the debts from the the leadership race.

    I think there was a 1MM raised during that same period that went directly towards the leadership races.

    The total of those two numbers does put the Liberals a little closer to the Conservatives but yes the Liberals still have some things to learn about fundraising.

  24. Maybe I misunderstood – is the dumb as a bag of hammers a quote from someone else? I thought you were implying you didn’t like it.

  25. Padraic — the quote is from Stephen LeDrew. He was quite outspoken in his opposition to the changes to the campaign finance law, calling it “dumb as a sack of hammers” (or bag, I can’t remember).

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