Mark an X if you want a tax break -

Mark an X if you want a tax break

Alberta Liberals are proposing a $50 tax credit for voting


Jeff McIntosh / CP

For democracy to thrive, it perhaps must inspire. And if politicians fail to offer the necessary motivation, maybe money can.

After just 41 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot during the last provincial election, the Alberta Liberals are proposing that each citizen who votes in the next one receive a $50 tax credit. “It’s an attempt to push people to think maybe a little bit outside the box,” says Liberal Leader David Swann. “We’re headed for trouble if more and more people check out of this democracy.”

Turnout in Alberta was at 60 per cent as recently as 1993, but has fallen in each of the last four elections. This mirrors what has occurred federally, the last national election drawing an all-time low of 58.8 per cent. With just shy of a million votes cast in the last provincial election, a tax credit would have cost the Alberta government approximately $48 million. “I guess one would have to ask, ‘what’s democracy worth?’ ” says Swann.

The Canada Elections Act already has some incentives built in: citizens are allowed three consecutive hours, without penalty by their employer, to cast a ballot, and portions of financial contributions to parties are tax deductible. The idea of a tax credit for voting has been floated before, but it doesn’t appear any jurisdiction has enacted such a policy. Critics lament that anyone would vote for financial gain, but a tax credit is a less punitive alternative to the mandatory voting imposed in some countries. In Australia, where voting is compulsory, those who fail to show up at the polling station must provide a valid reason for not doing so or pay a $20 penalty. Turnout there has historically averaged about 95 per cent. “We looked at Australia and how they increased their voter turnout by using a stick,” says Swann. “And I’m more inclined to the carrot.”

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Mark an X if you want a tax break

  1. "[P]ortions of financial contributions to parties are tax deductible."

    That's a non-refundable credit. Ergo, it doesn't help people whose incomes are too low for them to pay income tax. It's also why people who would like, but haven't the means, to donate to a political party are given a democratic boost by the per vote subsidy to parties.

    If the same principle applies – non-refundable rather than refundable credit – to the proposed credit for voters, then Alberta would see little change in voter turnout. The people most likely to be persuaded to vote because they'd get paid to do it, still won't.

    • Definitely needs to be refundable.

  2. This is a really dumb idea. If this is all the Alberta Liberals have got, then they deserve to remain in the wilderness.

  3. Important to point out that the three consecutive hours referred to provides that the employee has three clear hours while to polls are open to vote. If the employee lives in an electoral district in which voting hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and the employee's hours of work are between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., the employer is not required to provide the employee time off for the purpose of voting, because the employee will already have available three and a half consecutive hours for voting (from 5:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.).

  4. I am no doubt beginning to sound like a broken record.

    Obey the laws. Pay your taxes. Haul ass off to vote once in a while. The three most basic contributions a citizen can offer in a democratic society, and only the first two are obligatory.

    If even a simple contribution to the democratic fabric of society can only be teased out of you with such a bribe, please, loser, do your fellow citizens a favour and stay home on election day.

  5. Grandad always said your right to complain comes with your right to vote.
    Don't vote, then don't complain.

  6. Voting and enrollment to vote are not compulsory in Australia. People are not compelled or forced or physically restrained such that enrollment or voting occurs.