Bay Street no longer matters in Ottawa -

Bay Street no longer matters in Ottawa

Senator Irving Gerstein’s ignored speech reveals the new reality in political fundraising


Todd Korol / Reuters

Irving Gerstein has a bald round head with a grey fringe at the back and crooked glasses to the front.

He wears pinstripe suits. Not subtle pinstripes. Big thick Al Capone pinstripes. White shirts with dagger collars. Hardware on his lapel like a modern major-general. A pocket square folded in the shape of the Sydney Opera House.

He looks more like an aging bagman than the poster boy for a political revolution.

In fact, he’s both.

Sen. Gerstein and Prime Minister Stephen Harper were the only two members of the Conservative Party of Canada to make substantial addresses at last weekend’s convention in Calgary. Of the two, Gerstein’s was the more enlightening. It was a stunning disquisition on the new cash-flow politics practised by our governing party.

“All political parties,” said the senator, who has been fundraising since the days of Diefenbaker, “require money to operate.”

That’s hardly news but, as Gerstein explained, the way money is collected has changed. Successive Liberal and Conservative governments have rewritten the rules in important ways. Party donations have been capped at $1,200 per person. Government contributions to the parties (on a cash-per-vote basis) are being phased out.

That means a bagman-in-chief like Gerstein can no longer reach his fundraising targets by trolling for massive donations from bank presidents, corporate heads, special interest groups. Nor can he count on taxpayer subsidies to bankroll an election campaign.

“To raise money successfully,” said the senator, “a political party must appeal to Canadians of ordinary means . . . The Conservative party’s fundraising success is built not on the depth of our donors’ pockets but on the breadth of our donor base and that is what the other parties do not understand and why they are lagging behind.”

The opposition is indeed lagging. The Conservatives raised $17 million in 2012, more than the Liberals and the NDP combined and a huge number for a non-election year. It is on track to repeat this feat in 2013 (although the Liberals seem to be catching up). Gerstein and his colleagues have raked in more than $220 million in the last decade. They have $14 million cash in the bank.

They have also spent $7 million on fundraising technology and voter management software. These tools enable the bagman to launch sophisticated campaigns that identify potential supporters and move them “up the support pyramid,” from casual ally to party member to donor.

Conservative fundraising prowess, says Gerstein, has been key to the party’s three consecutive election victories. He was careful not to take all the credit. He shared some with his Prime Minister. And that is where he got profound.

If there is one thing he has learned about raising money, said Gerstein, it is that what comes out of Harper’s mouth determines what falls into the bagman’s boots: “Message creates momentum creates money.”

Think about that for a minute. What Gerstein told the world Saturday afternoon is that the Prime Minister gets to keep his job so long as his message—his policies, stances, decisions—moves Conservative activists to send cheques.

Gerstein stopped short of saying that the government adjusts its message to improve its finances but, come on . . . there’s a majority on the line.

Last summer, an indignant group of 150 Canadian CEOs complained to Ottawa that its approach to wireless competition was bad public policy and harmful to business. It was almost universally acknowledged that the CEOs had a point. Harper blew them off.

One hundred and fifty CEOs may rule Canadian business, but at $1,200 a head they are worth at most $180,000 to Harper. And the PM knows that a lot of those CEOs won’t write a cheque for any cause without getting their names on buildings. So 150 of the biggest, fattest CEOs in Canada wield less clout in Ottawa than any 150 Conservative hotheads in my home riding of Edmonton Centre.

Instead of answering the CEOs or sorting out his wireless policy, Harper launched a website that played on public dissatisfaction (often justifiable) with high prices and poor service in the wireless sector. The site steered traffic to party membership and fundraising pages. No doubt many of the good people of Edmonton Centre contributed.

Bay Street no longer matters in Canadian politics. And it will not matter whichever party is in power so long as the current fundraising rules hold. Gerstein’s logic is unassailable. The contribution cap and the phasing out of per-vote subsidies makes his way the only way to win.

CEOs had better get used to it, and we all need to get used to national parties more interested in capitalizing on problems than in fixing them.

Get used to reams of government policy inexplicable but for its ability to grease the bagman’s gears.

Another example. There was a posse of correctional officers in Calgary on the weekend. One would be forgiven for thinking they were in town to support a Prime Minister who is notoriously tough on crime. Rather, they were protesting the government’s insistence on double bunking convicts.

The guards know that double bunking actually increases violence in prisons. That’s contrary to the PM’s crime-fighting objectives.

But Harper’s interest in public safety is not primarily concerned with meaningful reform. Abusing convicts plays well in Edmonton Centre, makes the bagman’s phone ring, makes another Conservative majority in 2015 that much more likely.

The guards should have stayed home.

The subset of Conservative supporters who write cheques appears to be about 100,000 strong. These individuals are the real powers behind the Harper throne, the current Canadian political elite. They probably wield more clout than the entire Conservative caucus.

It is tempting to deplore their ascendance. But that someone is always paying the piper in our politics. Policies are always warped by influence. Now they’re just differently warped.

Little was reported of Gerstein’s speech beyond a soundbite on the Duffy scandal. No one listens closely to bagmen, however loud their pinstripes. Yet whenever an inexplicable decision emerges from the Harper government, we all search for clues—is it the PM’s faith, his economic beliefs, his advisers, his Alberta roots, his populist leanings?

All of those things inform Harper’s thinking. None explains the inexplicable so well as Gerstein’s law: message = money = mandate.


Bay Street no longer matters in Ottawa

  1. Oh, my goodness! This is terrible! If this continues, parties may find themselves getting elected based on promises that resonate with a majority of voters! Let us quickly reform the campaign finance laws so that 150 CEOs can set policy once more rather than letting the filthy plebes warp the process.
    Meanwhile, of course, this is largely nonsense, particularly when it comes to the Conservatives. Of course for public consumption, even for consumption by the base of party faithful at a convention, Mr. Gerstein will talk like that. But in real life, $1,200 is still a good deal more than a middle class household will be likely to donate, and the Conservatives have come up with many ingenious approaches to get around that per person/corporation limit, such as giving “bonuses” to many executives earmarked for donations at $1200 each. Presto, rather than $1200 from the CEO, you have $60,000 from 50 employees each “spontaneously” donating due to their love of the party. Fundraising aside, Conservative politicos generally expect lucrative private sector careers after their term in government playing ball. It’s still not American politics, but the notion that Bay Street doesn’t matter to the Conservatives is ludicrous.

    • Re: Bay Street. I don’t know. Harper publicly shived Wright, which I believe to be short-sighted politics, not to mention foolish and unnecessary. Still, the fact he did it suggests Mr. Whyte has a salient point. Or as another pundit put it, cross Harper and you’re roadkill, it doesn’t matter who you are. (Which is counter-intuitive if you’re still among those convinced the Tories have to be the party of Big Business, not the Liberals–as the vote-subsidy evidence showed.)

      • It’s the same as Rob Ford. Harper is a cornered animal fighting for his life. Harper’ll do anything and throw anyone under the bus to achieve his own survival and damn the torpedoes.

        • Fighting for his life? No. This ‘scandal’, while clumsily self-inflicted and embarrassing, isn’t remotely dangerous to his or the Tories political future. (Indeed, one hopes the opposition bangs on about this in ’15, it’s so profoundly irrelevant in comparison to many other aspects of the Harper revolution.)

          As to your fund raising objections (and the various self-serving conceits regarding what motivates people to unbelt), which party has suffered the most from the loss of public subsidy…and why? Answer that and you’ll know hobbling Big Labour and Big Business, while certainly benefiting the Tories, was also a democratizing corrective.

          • I have nothing against removing the influence of rich donors, but, I do have an objection against the polarization of politics.

            I’m not sure we need to move to a system whereby political parties are 100% publicly funded, but, we need to move to a system whereby they’re not beholden to financial interests of ANY kind, whether they be large corporations (you’re kidding yourself if “Big Labour” was ever able to muster up even 1/10th of the funds that “Big Business” ever was) or an extremist group of voters.

            But, regardless, this government is reaching the natural end of its life. Yes, it faces a split opposition, but, the reality is that 2/3s of the population are diametrically opposed to the Cons. It’s been two generations since the right-wing party was able to command anything more than 40% electoral support.

            As Canada urbanizes it becomes a country that simply cannot support conservatism–as people start living closer together they have a need to develop and support strong communities and the egocentric nature of (C)(c)onservatism simply doesn’t foster the local development that is necessary to make urban communities vital and healthy.

          • Nonsense. You obviously don’t know any Conservatives. Or conservative Liberals. Or conservative NDPers. These are all folks who don’t want the baby thrown out with the bath water.

            In 1984, 1988, 1993, 1997, 2000 and 2004 if you add up the conservative votes you get much more than 40%, contrary to your assertion. Even most of the Bloc MPs over time, within some of their revolutionary rhetoric, were conservatives. If we had proportional representation there would be no incentive or impetus for parties to arise, re-organize and re-combine into winning coalitions. Canada is a conservative country. Canadian conservatism has different roots and streams, and conservatives argue amongst each other all the time. It’s a strength.

            ‘Extremists’? Okay, reduce the maximum annual donation to $50. Is that low enough?

          • I hate to be the one to break it to you but Canada is and always has been regards as a Socialist Country by the whole world & both NDP & Liberals are different shades under the Socialist umbrella The only reason the Stephan Harper Reform-Conservative Party got into power was first The Liberals hard pissed off Canadians with the sponsorship scandal & we wanted to punish them & many believed the propaganda sold to them by both Libs and Con’s that if they voted NDP their vote wouldn’t count because the NDP would never get enough support to form official opposition let alone GOVT. Secondly, Many voters didn’t really remember that Stephan Harper & Preston Manning were actually Reform Party leaders that were previously not able to get enough votes to beat even the green party due to their medieval & fascist policies and the fact that a large part of their membership also were members of a neo-Nazi group called the Heritage front. So they were finally able to form GOVT because of a coalition with the old PC Party & due to inequities in our electoral system. If we had a one person one vote system they would have lost the election because over 60% of Canadians vote against a Conservative GOVT being formed by the Reform Party/Progressive Conservative Party Coalition

          • Reform had 53 seats in 1993, 60 seats in 1997. The Green Party had none that entire time. Chretien won in 1997 with 37% of the vote, less than Harper got last time around. Only two PMs in history managed to get a full 50% of the vote, both Tory. Diefenbaker did it, and Mulroney did it in 1984. If you were aiming to give us a history lesson, you failed. If you were aiming to educate us on our political system, you failed even worse.

          • Yes you are right they did get elected to 53 seats in 1993 but if you check your facts you find out that they short enough seats to form official opposition & in fact never did manage to reach status of official opposition or govt before disbanding in 2000 mainly because of a scanda. It was revealed that they had knowingly recruited members of the Neo-Nazi group the Heritage Front & hired them to do security for Preston Manning

      • Anyone who knows the history of Canadian politics knows the Conservatives have never been the party of Bay Street. Indeed, Bay Street fought hard to get rid of Diefenbaker. They didn’t like his Canadian nationalism and Western populism. They didn’t want Stanfield’s wage and price controls (which they got from their boy Trudeau). They opposed Joe Clark and Jean Charest. Bay Street funded the Liberal Party of Canada for decades.

        Harper didn’t ‘shiv’ Nigel Wright. Nigel was a Progressive Conservative long before he ever walked on Bay Street. He’s not a Bay Street boy, he just worked there (very successfully). He left the PMO because he made a mistake. Most Chiefs of Staff leave for the same reason. The ‘shiv’ story is an invention of the opposition and the media. The fact that it’s perpetuated by people who want to be taken seriously and in a discussion about fundraising shows the lack of seriousness here.

        • No argument from me. That’s what I stated in my first post. Contrary to received wisdom, it’s long been the Liberals who benefited from Bay Street/Montreal largesse.

          Re: Wright ‘shived’. Harper went on three radio shows, it was reported, and explained that he ‘dismissed’ Wright for…etc., etc.

          Frankly, instead of distancing himself from the man, I think the better play would have been to express remorse at losing a clever, talented coordinator…and the likelihood of there being an open door should he wish to return to public service (God, what a loathsome phrase). Ruthlessness is necessary in politics, but hanging the man out to dry, especially one with Wright’s connections and rep., is, I would still argue, foolish and short-sighted.

        • What about Mulroney – you left him out.

    • Your assessment of the value of the future fund raising system is incorrect and our future fund raising system is 100% out of line with how the rest of the developed world does it (and, they do it for good reason).
      Our future fund raising system means that MONEY will rule politics, not good public policy!
      The future fund raising system means that parties will have many built-in incentives to ensure that…
      (a) problems remain UNSOLVED; and,
      (b) issues are polarized.
      Extremes motivate people to give. You don’t motivate your faithful donors to give money based on compromise. And, you don’t motivate non-faithful donors to give by compromising.
      You motivate your faithful to give if they’re MAD or SCARED. Compromise doesn’t get you either emotion but compromise means that society moves FORWARD and SOLVES PROBLEMS.
      And, solving problems means that your base no longer has a hot button issue to motivate them to give.
      No, the way our fund raising system will look like in 2015 is one where money and extreme positions rule the day. Compromise is out.
      Providing parties with public funding based on their electoral support is a fundamental part of democracy and one that pretty much every democracy of note does. What it does is remove the corruption that donors provide. When corporations were able to sink billions it swayed public policy in the direction of a few.
      But, now that we’ve got extremists footing the bill, it’s going to swing public policy into the direction of the extremes and make sure nothing of substance gets done.
      Now, in the case of Harper it was an obvious tactical play and one that shows how his intent is not good governance but destruction of the capacity to provide good governance and to damage the political opposition, not through good policy but by underhanded politics in a manner that hasn’t been seen before in living memory.
      The Conservatives are by definition a party of extremists opposed by 2/3s of the population. It is only because they operate in an anachronistic first-past-the-post electoral system that they can ever hope to hold power and implement extremist policy.
      When the time of reckoning comes I hope that whatever party is in power completely eliminates donations altogether IMMEDIATELY and basis public funding on electoral success.
      Well, I also hope that they move beyond a first-past-the-post electoral system towards something fair and democratic like proportional representation or ranked ballots. Political parties don’t choose their leaders using first-past-the-post. They either rank their ballots or they use proportional representation.
      Why is the electoral system that elects MPs and MPPs not good enough for political parties to use internally?

      • I’d have to agree that public funding is a superior model. And yes, we certainly do need some proportional representation.
        I was just somewhat disturbed by the article, which almost seemed to be suggesting that what we need to do is move to unlimited donation sizes so the tycoons can rule properly.

        • The existing model (pre Conservative attacks on the democratic process) was a pretty good one. It allowed for a hybrid of forcing parties to fund raise while giving them enough funds to ensure that they’re not wholly beholden to the special interests that fund them.

          Perhaps an even better model would be to go to 100% public funding. It unfortunately would allow mindless attacks by conservatives but it would eliminate the perverting hold that money has over political parties. Their only concern would be attracting the support of as many people as possible–and, tactics that suppress voters from turning out (often times your own actions to suppress the turnout of the opposing vote also depresses your own vote) would not be on the table as they are now (negative attack ads work disproportionately well for conservative parties but they still do lose their own voters too).

          • Canadians shouldn’t have to pay directly for political shenanigans. With the subsidy elimination, a Chretien transitional legacy is gone. The parties have had years to deal with the loss of corporate and union funding. The Conservatives did.

            Tax deductions for a maximum $1200 per year can be tweaked if that’s your complaint. Political parties aren’t in the Constitution, and we’ve had hundreds of them, with many different names and orientations since 1867, across Canada. There’s no reason we should try to stop this healthy democratic ferment by locking in the parties we have today, and that’s what the public funding model does. It stops competition and rewards parties for existing and lying on election day. So does proportional representation, which is equally foolish. Prohibitions on union and corporate funding stop distortion of our democracy, public funding funding simply freeze-dries it. Instead, parties should rise and fall based on their public support, in all dimensions.

            One thing I would like to see return, however, was a TV staple from the 1950s through 1980s. I don’t know when it stopped. ‘The Nation’s Business’ aired on CBC and gave each federal political party free time to talk to Canadians. Yes, I know things were different in 1956 when there was only one Canadian TV network. But there’s no reason that 30 minutes a week of The National couldn’t be given to free political broadcasts, divided by the number of official parties in Parliament (currently the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP). My only restriction would be that it can’t be explicitly for fundraising and must address national political issues. Likewise, I’d like to see a re-airing of those legacy programs featuring Pearson, Diefenbaker, Cauoette, Douglas, Thompson, Trudeau and Stanfield from the 1960s. That would be another good regular feature on The National. I’d even watch.

          • The subsidy is still there. There’s a HUGE subsidy in place for the very type of individual political donations that this article is talking about, to the tune of the taxpayers covering 75% of the cost.

            I’m not sure why you think proportional representation locks in the existing party structure. If anything, if the experience of pretty much every other country that uses the system is any indication, big-tent parties like we have now tend to fragment. Why would social conservatives, libertarians, fiscal conservatives, and hawks all be in the same party, when they could each form their own party that more correctly suits their beliefs and would be properly represented in government?

          • No, what you call “subsidy” is a tax deduction which may not even affect taxes paid in many cases or provide any incentive in others. And it’s a deduction that has been reduced from past levels in the way it’s applied. It was originally introduced to broaden the base of political party funding and reduce the influence of business and labour interests, and it did so.

            Here’s why proportional representation locks in party structures: it removes any incentive for anyone or any group to compromise or combine themselves into a more broadly based party, and hence one that doesn’t have narrow focus interests, BEFORE an election. Instead it propagates fragmentation of interests and depends upon compromise AFTER the election with no indication of what that might be. So it results in a plethora of parties and typically difficult government. Constitutions, including electoral considerations, have a big impact on how well governed any state is. Canada traditionally stalls during minority government and then resumes speed in a majority situation. But contrast France between the 4th and 5th Republics. In the 4th, hundreds of political parties and political paralysis. In the 5th, with a new Constitution, down to a handful of parties, and real progress followed.

            Read some of Robert Dahl’s excellent books to enhance your understanding of modern political analysis.

            In Canada, the period between 1984 and 2004 was one of ferment for Canadian conservatives, federally speaking. Trudeau left a mess in 1984 and Mulroney didn’t move quickly enough to change it, for some. Ultimately the record-holding electoral victory of 1984 was broken apart by this impatience as post-trudeau economic bloat, Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accord all contributed to dissatisfaction and led to PC supporters going to Reform and Bloc camps. Those that stayed weren’t enough to sustain the victory that was in the polls in August 1993. By 2004, after some thrashing, the Bloc was decimated, Reform had become a broader party which then merged with the rebuilding PC Party to become again a winning combination. The dynamic tension remains but generally both the former Reformers and former PCers are happier today than 20 years ago. If Canada had proportional representation they would not have combined into one party in 2003 ahead of the 2004 election. As a result, no one could have been able to tell for what they stood if they were to form a post-election coalition in 2004 or 2006.

            Anyone can propose to alter the political party tax deductibility. Are they not promoting more broad-based funding and yet dependent upon actual support? You can reduce or increase the deduction. Too much help for wealthy folks? Take away the deduction above a certain income level. Or remove it entirely. I suspect the latter would gain little support in the House of Commons from any party, however. But tax deductibility is not direct subsidy, it’s indirect subsidy and not 100%. So make it 50%…

            Unions spend money as though it’s there’s even though they coerce it from members who have no say in how it’s spent. That’s one good reason to ban unions from federal donations. It’s also been abused in the past. Unions can and do turn out people, however, and in doing so have an advantage over business which is firmly prohibited from using any carrot or stick to have employees act in a political manner anathema to their own desires.

      • You motivate your base (and more, they’re constantly growing their fundraising support) by solving problems. During minority government you had to depend on the opposition to pass legislation. In a majority you don’t and that’s why things have been going much faster.

        It must be strange to someone so young who must believe time is a long thing and issues can stretch for decades, but new issues actually arise every day, and government is constantly vigilant and has people watch each ‘file’. When you can get rid of logjams such as nonsensical long gun registries or government control of selling wheat suddenly the road opens up, the marketplace works and things change. Freeing people from unnecessary regulations — and imposing more people-friendly regulations on regulated monopolies such as telecommunications — is a constant churn in the legislatures of the nation. One way to have the ear to the ground is through a modern fundraising operation. It has feedback built in.

        In another life, over 40 years ago, I worked for a time doing political fundraising for the governing federal political party in Canada. I made my calls to companies who had in the past given more than $5,000 for a prior election campaign. I had a script, but mostly I had ears. Parties claimed donation amounts didn’t matter, back then. That was likely true for $100 donations. But when I hit a donor that gave $6,000 the previous election and now was committing to a donation of $125,000 I had questions I was supposed to ask, including when would be an appropriate time for the Prime Minister to make the ‘thank you’ call, oh, and what prompted the donation. That was after Bob Dylan had sung “money doesn’t talk, it swears”, but it was still true.

        Jean Chretien may or may not have known anything about AdScam but he clearly didn’t want it to be his legacy. He started the ball rolling away from federal politics fuelled by corporate and union donations. Harper took that ball and ran with it. Both deserve great credit for this clean-up of Canadian politics. I personally know Liberals and Conservatives who hate the funding restriction. And they hate it for the reason I like it — it levels the playing field. The NDP saw what a level playing field — and a charismatic leader — can do in 2011.

        BTW – how can the CBC announcer Pep Philpott pronounce “Gerstein” as “Gernstein”? You’d think with his name he’d have an appreciation for pronunciation.

        • No, you motivate your base by pretending to solve problems. Republicans in the US have been pretending to solve the abortion issue for 30 years in order to keep evangelicals in their pocket.

          • Here’s the problem. Some issues aren’t black and white for everybody. Some need to percolate and be considered over and over. That’s the nature of issues such as abortion, eugenics, capital punishment, etc. People that want to dictate from the right or the left can have their hearts in the right place yet be 100% wrong about ordering things done a single way. The left, historically, has been more likely to embrace absolutism. They absolutely decry the right of anyone to disagree with some of their tenets. And that’s a problem. I know reasonable people from both sides of all of these issues. And I know unreasonable ones. It’s my belief — and I’m trying to offer as balanced an assessment as possible — that on most issues compromises can be reached and the ones least likely to agree are on the left of said issues. Some may differ. That’s the way of the world.

            Republicans in many states have sought to establish a reasonable limitation on abortion. Their opponents in some of those states have rejected any limitation and want 100% abortion on demand. I think these opponents are the unreasonable ones. Are you saying people with religious convictions are not allowed political expression? Or do you really expect that some day there are any issues which will have 100% unanimous support?

        • You almost sound like a tea-partier.

          • Well I certainly agree we’re Taxed Enough Already.

    • In fact, the Election Act specifically prohibits this by non-individuals (both business and unions) and has prosecuted a few cases. It’s not widespread. The companies see no influence, so don’t bother. Their employees can’t be told which party to support, legally, and despite all the Liberals on Bay Street, there are a few non-Liberals, too. Instead, the Liberals and unions give provincially which is why we had a decade of McGuinty ruin.

      • How do you know it’s not widespread?

    • Letting the 150 CEOs setting the rules is no better. Do you wany the corporations or the gov controlling and running the country? Personally I want neither, but the latter already does in many ways and the former has just changed the rules to be more in their favor. Life is a game. Don’t be too upset.

    • And you have evidence of these types of “bonuses” do you? Oh, an article in the Tyee isn’t evidence, in case you were wondering. What you just described is strictly against the law, and if someone has evidence of it, Elections Canada will be looking into it.

  2. The current fundraising scheme has essentially been stacked in the conservatives’ favour. The donation limits optimize the number of donors and how much they can be motivated to give. Conservatives will probably always win the fundraising game under this model due to the nature of the components of the conservative base. These include religious and social conservatives who have a strong tradition of tithing to churches, as well as those motivated by fear or anger (crime, gun laws, welfare, etc.).

    The way things are, parties continue to be massive subsidized by the taxpayer since up to 75% of donations are paid for by tax refunds, then 50% of campaign expenses are reimbursed.

    In order to make it harder to fund parties excessively (to construct massive databases of the political leanings of every voter–invasion of privacy/Orwellian list of people to knock off first once you attain power), donations should probably be capped at something much lower, in the $100 – $200 range per year. I would make an exception for small parties that may need support to get bootstrapped, so I would suggest parties that raise less than $1 million per year can receive donations up to $1200, but over that amount, and parties can either return the donations to the donor or have it be subjected to 100% tax over the donation limit.

    I think our politics could benefit from substantially less money sloshing around to fund sky campaigns where candidates only descend from the sky to appear in carefully staged photo ops, supplemented with carpet-bomb advertising about how the other guy eats kittens and worships Satan.

    • And smaller donations, under like $300, are mostly paid for by the taxpayer, not the contributor.

      The reform the system needs is a return of the per vote subsidy in some amount (possibly less than it was) and a smaller tax refund for political contributions. I think a line like “why should you get more money back when you give to Trudeau/harper/Mulcair than when you give teh same amount to veteran’s or child luekemia research?” might have resonance.

      • So you want automatic funding for votes and reduced funding attached to actual supporters?

        Votes should not equal funding. It has meant parties going after votes that won’t matter in Ottawa just to get $$. It has hurt both the NDP and Liberals.

        But let’s adopt your other idea. Keep the same max donations and restrictions against non-individual donations (i.e. unions and business) and reduce the tax benefits.

        This is even though your claim about donations being “mostly paid for by the taxpayer” is a largely specious argument. It’s just a designated tax deduction. And it isn’t 100%. Set your percentage.

        Now, make an argument for why votes should equal auto-funding.

        Remember, it’s a marketplace. Anyone can appeal to anyone. I don’t go to Church, I don’t tithe, appeal to me.

        • Everything you have said is wrong and misguided.

          • That’s your argument ? WOW . go on then vote for Justin.

      • So donations are subsidized by taxpayers too much, so you’re solution to that is to force taxpayers to subsidize parties more? Brilliant! That’s the kind of logic that leads to statements like “legalizing marijuana will lead to less marijuana consumption.”

    • It’s not stacked at all and your logic is ridiculous – “Conservatives will probably always win the fundraising game under this
      model due to the nature of the components of the conservative base.” Crazy. Because you believe the Conservative base gives, gives and gives they’ll give a little more? You clearly don’t know the “base” beyond the media claims. It’s as multi-faith, multi-cultural and multi-lingual as the country.

      Every party has the same opportunity to appeal to Canadians, and to seek their support. Why aren’t they?

      The Liberals and NDP appear to only sign up members when they are running a leadership race. They don’t do it in any palpable way otherwise. The current smarmfest Justin Trudeau is offering to insult Toronto women is beyond the pale. It’s going to cost them more supporters than it brings in.

      • I think it works for the CPC because they target less knowledgeable voters and have less problem inventing facts. Furthermore, people expect good policy and are unlikely to pay for it, but they WILL pay for policy they know is wrong but which they feel benefits them – the gun registry is a prime example, getting rid of it was a bad idea but it makes the CPC cash. Because the CPC are more extremist than the other parties, they’re more likely to go out on a limb for bad but lucrative ideas.

        • It works for the Conservatives because they target the more experienced members of Canada’s communities that also tend to be greater risk takers as opposed to government takers . Yet that same cohort also tend to work harder and longer hours, obey Canada’s laws, help close neighbours, and volunteer far more. But do go on and believe what drivel you stated.

    • The only way this is stacked in the Conservatives’ favour is that the Conservatives have a head start on the other parties. $17 million in funding requires that you get 800,000 people to kick $20 towards your party. $20 isn’t a lot of money- it’s like 1 Tim Hortons coffee per month. You’d think that the NDP’s union affiliation should be an advantage – they’ve already got the makings of a fund-raising apparatus.

  3. What about those $1000/plate dinners? I don’t think anyone outside the CEO community can afford to donate to those events. They seem like a very effective means of allowing the moneyed class to ‘rise above’ that pesky $1200 limit.

    • No. They are covered by the limit. That’s why there are many fewer big fundraising dinners than there once were.

  4. Government contributions to the parties (on a cash-per-vote basis) are being phased out.

    True, absolutely true. This would have been a good place to mention that government contributions are still going strong, though – for each $1 that a donor gives to a party, the taxpayer is obliged to match with $3.

    • and they get 75 cents back as a tax deduction.

      • We are talking about the same thing. You are talking about the exact mechanism, whereas I’m describing the net effect.

        • i see.

      • That’s all being tweaked, too. But at least it’s all still based on individual donors having maximums. Corporations can give ZERO $$, and the same with unions. Both of these groups used to pump up the Liberals and NDP far above their actual support in the land.

        The change has forced political parties to actually seek and get close to their supporters. And listen. What a concept.

        But the per-vote subsidy change is huge. Prior to 2011 election, parties raked in $2.04 per voter in previous election. Since then, that subsidy has been cut by $0.51 per voter per year. Which means in 2015 it will be just $0.51 per voter, then zero in 2016.

        How big is this? The Opposition parties threatened a coup over it in 2008… they didn’t care about recession or jobs, just their subsidy.

        • See above about you being misguided.

  5. Granted, Bay Street in not NDP street, for sure.
    But at the other side of the political spectrum, how could a person working on Bay Street accept the tone of this regressive government. Harper reashing the tired ‘elite’ schpeel etc.
    If I was in high finance, I would be ashamed of this government.
    Bay Street might well be Conservative, but they are probably not Reform regressive (which is what we now have in power right now).

  6. Whyte’s negative spin is amusing. He’s suggesting that government chooses not to fix problems so they can fundraise on them. But the Opposition claims too many things are being fixed, legislation is passing through Parliament too quickly. Nor does Whyte reflect on the obvious opportunities such a dynamic would present for Opposition parties which could simply make up issues (which they do) and rail away (which they do) and draw in huge sums (which they don’t).

    Gerstein’s report was very revealing, yes. It shows the Conservatives have their ears to the ground. Neither Unions nor Bay Street don’t control federal politics the way they control Ontario provincial politics (NOTE: Ontario now a have-not province).

    Whyte reveals, unintentionally, that the era of the federal government being unduly influenced by big money are over, that they now work to do what’s right in the public’s eye, focus on issues and complaints of the “little people”.

    What a refreshing change.

  7. Wow. What an amazingly brazen attempt to convince us that it’s somehow desirable to have politicians all in the pockets of huge megacorporations, and able to show open contempt for the intelligence of voters, the way things were under the Chrétien Liberals.

    For shame, Mr Whyte.

    • I don’t think that’s what he was trying to convince us of at all. As for the Chretien Liberals, Chretien did ultimately pass legislation restricting donor size and corporate donation size. Harper then made the legislation even more restrictive. So we can’t blame corporate influence on Chretien because he did get the ball moving in the right direction and start to remove it. In fact, he really hamstrung his own party in the process. The Alliance already had a very strong donor base of individuals. The Liberals had relied heavily on corporate and wealth donors up to that point. They have yet to recover.

      • One of the rumours is that Chrétien did it very specifically to hamstring Martin, because he knew very well where Liberal party money comes from.

  8. Federal Income Tax Credits for political contributions are not refundable and can only be used against taxable income. Former Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Mike Harris made them refundable in Ontario in 2000 after an unsuccessful attempt at getting the change he had proposed years before passed in his private members bill. Harris said he did it because the law discriminated against the poor, women, minorities and the disabled who had lower incomes and did not qualify for the credits to the degree other groups did. Jim Flaherty was Ontario Finance Minister at the time. What is being missed in this article is the unfair and undue influence that federal Conservative supporters have on public policy because a much higher percentage of them receive these tax credits than contributors to other parties or the general public. If the law said only wealthy white men qualify, it would be unconstitutional on its face, but the way it is written and applied, it amounts to the same thing. Where might you ask are the NDP and Liberals on this policy, nowhere, they support the idea that only those with money are allowed to receive taxpayer funds for political contributions. In reality, the NDP and Liberals only kowtow to and protect the interests of wealthy and ‘working’ people with taxable incomes as well and those with very little have to pay several times more to contribute to our political parties or candidates to gain influence than those who can easily afford to do it without the tax credits.

  9. Poor corporations. They are no longer able to influence politics and political parties will instead have to listen to people.
    I thought that was the definition democracy “government of the people for the people”.
    If corporations want more power they can always claim to be a person and pay personal income tax rates.

  10. That idea of `message = money’ is straight out of the TV evangelists’ playbook. It’s worked for that base forever.

  11. The only thing I would note is the implication that the interests
    of bank presidents and corporate heads are somehow less
    than special.

  12. Capping donations? So i can pay 1000 lawyers 1200 bucks to make an anonymous donation and we’re back to square one? Hope there isn’t any loopholes. Trying not to be too cynical here.

  13. More people contribute to Liberals, more money goes to Harper; that was predictable since militant conservatives have more money than milquetoast moderates and since ideologues are more motivated than moderates; so now ideology rules, and vindictiveness is in power (double bunking, cheat veterans, etc), not people. Are we headed Tea Party way?

    • So more motivated people are willing to give more. Maybe the other parties should ask themselves why they are unable to motivate their bases to the same degree. Crying “Not fair! because the other guy is more motivated is laughable. If they’re more motivated than you, they’re more likely to get what they want than you. What a surprise.

  14. Money is the mother’s milk of Canadian politics. And too many examples have been cited where CPC policy appears driven by a nakedly opportunistic desire to swing voter groups and open donor cheque books, rather than by the need to address specific economic and social goals.

    But the idea that Bay Street no longer matters to fundraising is laughable. It ignores the reality of big donors driving trucks through the loopholes in Canada’s election funding system.
    For example:
    – loans to candidates are unlimited
    – secret donations of money, property and services are legal to nomination race and party leadership race candidates as long as they don’t use such donations for their campaign
    – there are a variety of ways to bypass the intent of contribution limits by funnelling contributions through individuals
    – enforcement by Elections Canada is slow and weak.
    Don’t doubt that donors are getting value for their money. Or that Bay Street finds a way to be heard. You and me on the other hand? Another story.

  15. This is really insightful. It resonates with the inexplicable popularity of Toronto’s mayor to #FordNation despite his failings, including proof that he is incompetent. So long as what a politician *says*!–as opposed to what s/he does, and its ramifications– appeals to those who can be convinced to donate, tha politician’s party is more likely to be rich enough to ensure their candidate wins. While at first glance, this may appeal to the voters, who will think more voters’ opinions are being enacted, we have only to look south to see how that can fail: democracy and good governance are only served if the donating segment of the population makes itself highly informed, expert on a variety of diverse issues, from business subsidies to anti-discrimination to foreign policy to public health to natural sciences… It’s a huge expectation, and it depends on an electorate that has broad access to, and takes advantage of, education and an independent media. Republicans figured out that information was the enemy of their party, because an electorate that is uneducated is unlikely to be able to follow the machinations of political decisions and policies. We can see that the Conservatives –federally and provincially– have figured that out too. Paul Well’s new book on Stephen Harper shows, among other insights, that Harper’s agenda is to undercut anything that smacks of liberalism –including science (and more). The new reality? If we want a well-governed Canada we all have to work harder at knowing, learning, and understanding more of the issues. We have to ensure we, and our family, neighbours, friends, etc. pay attention to what is behind the sound-bytes.

    Maybe more than senate reform, we need political campaign funding reform, so that the richest party is not the automatically-elected party. One option is for all donations to go to a central pool, to be re-distributed equally among all candidates, regardless of party affiliation. That would help create a level campaigning field, and reduce manipulation of the electorate by wealth.

    • You missed the message entirely . Thousands of LITTLE donations is what makes the Conservatives tick . Liberals and Socialists just do not get it . The sense of entitlement or the government will take care of “It”. Conservatives vote with 20 to 25 per month which is peanuts if you think about it but truly a lifeblood if 100,000 or more have it taken from a Visa authorization every month . Liberals and your argument would rather take it out of “general revenue ” but those days are gone . Pony up to the party of your choice.

    • The Bay Street “Wonder Boy” Nigel Wright DOES NOT
      GIVE AWAY HIS OWN MONEY! Not a single
      dime came out of Wright’s pocket!

      It would be a simple matter of Nigel Wright INVOICING the “Conservative
      Fund of Canada” account (the Conservative Party’s – taxpayer-subsidized war
      chest – multiple times for some phoney “Financial Consultant Fees” to
      accrue back the $90K. CPC treates that
      Fund’s coffer as their private “Honey Pot.”

      OR, had the media called out Gerstein, they would have found
      it was HE who arranged for cash-under-the-table from rich party backers which
      found its way into Wright’s bank account as Gerstein could not hide the $90K on
      the CFC books.

      Are there any conversations between Conservative Senator
      Irving Gerstein (Harper’s bagman) and the PMO about Nigel getting paid back
      from the “Conservative Fund of Canada” — the federal party’s war chest Gerstein
      once chaired.

  16. I wonder how many rich Conservatives are donating through other folks?Harper’s goon, De Mastro is being investigated on such a charge. I won’t be surprised at all if the Conservatives are getting money this way …the rich CONs don’t care too much about the tax credit, they just want their money to flow through. The individuals who are the conduit benefit from the tax credit.
    To curb such practice, tax credit for political donations should be wiped out.

  17. As if a Prime Minister who used Robocalls is above taking bribes from the rich. What a load of bullshit.