Wait, I should probably be more specific: our obsessive coverage of how much money the various political parties have, or don’t have, or have managed to raise – or not raise, and what it all means as far as the prospect of an [insert season here] election, and what it says about the state of grassroots support, and — enough. Seriously, enough.
I’m not saying stories like this one, which reveals the not-all-that-shocking news that the Liberals have raised $5 million since the beginning of the year — aren’t important, and interesting — because of course it is, as will be the stories that will come out later this week, after Elections Canada releases the latest quarterly reports and we can see whether the various parties have boosted their intake from the first three months of the year. Who’s ahead? Who’s falling behind? Who’s hot? Who’s not? Lather, rinse and repeat three months later, when the third quarter reports start rolling in. (And to save someone else from pointing it out first, ITQ freely admits to being just as guilty as any of her colleagues of focusing on the parties’ fiscal health to the virtual exclusion of all else.)
Somehow, we — and I’m using a blurry, royal-ish we, because it’s not just journalists, it’s the parties themselves as well, not to mention partisans and political junkies — seem to have decided that, aside from the still revered opinion poll, the only reliable measure of the vitality and strength of a political party is its bank balance.
Now, I’ll grant you that the Liberals are a special case — after all, it is that party’s chronic — well, recently chronic — lack of funds that has been blamed for its successive leaders’ reluctance to go to the polls. But even so, in all the interviews with the party’s new wunderkind national director Rocco Rossi that have appeared in the last few weeks, there has been precious little discussion of anything other than, well, money, and how much of it he hopes to raise. Everything — from the attack ads to the most recent parliamentary standoff, is viewed through that prism.
Of course, on the other side of the have/have not fence, we have the Conservative Party, which pulls in more cash from more donors than the other four parties combined, but whose leader was so fixated on cash-starving his adversaries that he very nearly brought down his own government by proposing to abolish the per-vote subsidy, all the while leaving the generous tax and expense rebates — which, as it happens, benefit his party more than the others simply because it has more money and more donors — untouched.
According to Colleague Wells, that’s the one thing that Stephen Harper has on his to-do list if he wins the next election: forget health care, the economy or the environment — it’s all about money: not only raising as much of it as you can, but making it as difficult as possible for your opponents to do the same.
What we forget in all this, of course, is that the vast majority of Canadians aren’t card-carrying members of any party — and, for the most part, they don’t donate to political parties at all. (Nor, in ITQ’s possibly heretical opinion, should they feel any particular obligation to do so, unless they’re truly motivated, because really, their only civic responsibility is to show up and vote, but that’s another rant for another day.)
If the permanent campaign forces parties to devote an ever increasing amount of time, energy and – yes, money – to keep the cheques rolling in, that means they have less time, energy and money to reach out to those who prefer to vote not with their wallets, but the old fashioned way: with a ballot, on Election Day. We — journalists, political parties and everyone else — ought to keep that in mind. It’s fine to write about party fundraising, just like it’s fine to write about polls – but we shouldn’t make the mistake of treating the political marketplace like a stock exchang