In the balance


Errol Mendes figures the vote subsidy is part of a delicate balance.

There could well be an argument that limited forms of financial contribution to political parties by trade unions are a form of political expression that may be protected by our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms — and indeed by other entrenched rights documents around the world. The U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision last January ruled that “political speech is indispensable to a democracy, which is no less true because the speech comes from a corporation,” thereby allowing corporations to engage in political spending in elections.

Indeed, the Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed that, like individual Canadians, trade unions and corporations are guaranteed their freedom of expression under the Charter. The court will most likely strike down total elimination of such expression without some balancing reasonable limit under section 1 of the Charter. That section allows governments to impose reasonable limits on Charter rights that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. This balancing allows governments to impose the present limits on financial contributions by individuals.

Meanwhile, WT Stanbury does the math and comes up with the following.

In summary terms, the cost of the various subsidies has been as follows: total per vote subsidies in 2010 were $27.4-million; total tax credits in 2010 were $21-million (probably an underestimate); reimbursement of parties for 2008 election expenses  were $29.2-million; reimbursements of candidates for 2008 election expenses were $28.7-million; and there is no estimate for the free broadcast time in 2008 election.

The annualized cost of all the subsidies for federal parties and candidates depends on the length of the time between general elections. If we assume three years, the average cost is about $68-million per year (at current levels and excluding the value of broadcasting time). If we assume four years between elections, the average cost is about $63-million per year.


In the balance

  1. He's a partisan Liberal.

    Shouldn't the media do any full disclosure on this ??

    Just wondering Cats.

  2. I think one of the best things we could do as a nation is rescind the rather silly legal notion that a corporate entity – or any other aggregated collective like a union or a charity – should be treated as a natural person under the law. No charter rights for legal fictions.

  3. It is no wonder Canadians don't trust the media. Aaron writes his little story while not pointing out that he takes his information from a partisan Liberal like Mr. Mendes.
    You see it with folks Michael Byers all the time too. Byers, a screaming socialist and failed NDP candidate makes Jack Layton look reasonable.

    Aaron, why is it that media folks always mention when commentators or contributors are somehow connected to the Conservative Party, but consistenly fail to mention connections to Liberals or NDP?

    You do your trade a disservice, but then again……your failures to point our areas for potential bias are not accidental. Are they?

  4. There'd need to be some tweaking, however. A corporation should still, as an entity, be able to sue and be sued for contract disputes and issues of causing personal injury. Also should be prevented from and protected from slander and libel. And there are probably a few other small things like that that I can't think of right now, but I wouldn't expect they're very many.

    Other than that, 100% with you, and in addition, we should, as a society, not be afraid of revoking corporate status if a corporation is working in a way that causes harm to the general public.

  5. Try this next time Aaron…

    Errol Mendes, a long time Liberal Party activist, says….blah…blah…blah…..

    See…….that's called HONEST reporting. A real reporter or journalist would do it that way, however, given the poor state of Canadian "Journalism" I guess you are just one amongst many.

    No wonder people go to blogs for real news.

  6. Maybe you'd like to address the SUBSTANCE of Mendes article?

  7. I will! Following the U.S. Court in this particular area would be downright stupid. Also, the fact that the Canadian Court recognized the "individual rights" of corporations (as it did in its decision to strike down restrictions on tobacco advertising in 1995) is one of the most criticized aspect of its Charter jurisprudence to date.

  8. Now why on earth would he want to do that? That might take thinking.

  9. John K…

    I didn't address the substance of the Mendes article, because that was not my point.

    It happens every time you see the Toronto Star or CBC report that "studies" show global warming is going to be a catastrophe, or that the Oil Sands are killing people and poisoning the land..etc..etc…

    Only to find out that the studies are by Left wing groups such as the Council of Canadians, Sierra Club, or the Pembina institute.

    Groups that have consistently fabricated facts, lied, or otherwise torqued their story to scare folks.

    It's about being honest.

  10. "No wonder people go to blogs for real news."

    Um, this is a blog.

  11. It's about being honest

    This is a beef I often have when assessing the the words/directives of the PMO

  12. Or when they quote noted left wingers like the United Nations World Meteorlogical Organisation about global warming. Give me a break and get that chip off your shoulder that the right wing is somehow under/unrepresented in the press debate.

  13. I notice you didn't chide Mr. Wherry for not pointing out that Stanbury has been published by the Fraser Institute, a "notorious right wing organisation".

    The provenance of the material is irrelevant. The material itself either stands or falls on its own merits.

    Honest? I think not.

  14. partisan Liberal (noun phrase): anyone who disagrees with any thought or idea Harper or his Conservatives have had. This means the merit of any argument or idea can be immediately dismissed without risking the scary concept of independent thought.

    My, my. Always nice to see the Conbots out for a stroll, pasting the same thing over and over under different naems, ignoring what is actually said in a post in favour of a tired argument.

  15. I think a better approach would be to not grant corporate bodies constitutional rights where inappropriate. For example, a Jewish business was able to exercise freedom of religion in order gain an exemption from Sunday Shopping laws and close on Saturdays instead.

  16. Which I state as an example of why these rights should be kept, not as an "inappropriate" example.

  17. I don't mind this suggestion from Tom Flanagan in a recent G&M opinion piece, no, I don't mind it at all.

  18. Why not ask, instead, why hours of business are regulated at all? It's really none of my business if the Buy-Low Megamart wants to operate 24/7. Why in god's name** does the government need to get involved in hours of business at all?

    ** (perhaps there's a clue there)

  19. I think your clue is it, and I think it pertains to the freedom of religion of the employees of said business, who would otherwise have to choose between keeping their job and observing their religious beliefs. Except that doesn't help the Jewish people with jobs in stores that stay open on Saturdays, does it? Is there any other religion with a Sabbath day on which they are to rest? I think the government should stay out of when stores may stay open, with a note from the employee's pastor/priest/immam/whatever that states this person attends service regularly on the Sabbath and therefore can not work that day. Hey, the religions will love it, since they're having such trouble filling the pews on a regular basis. Or people will quit using "religion" as an excuse

  20. Agreed. Thanks for the link!

  21. Freedom of religion does not mean that the government, or society as a whole, has to arrange itself to comply with your religion. It's a private matter to be worked out in your private life. If you can't work it out, get another job or another religion. It's not like there's any shortage of the things.

  22. True, but reasonable accommodation could require one regular day per week that you don't have to work, could it not? I mean, it isn't as if you are the only employee and have to work 24/7. Because if you are, you own the thing and can decide when to work and when to close all by yourself. What gets me are people who use 'religious rights' to get out of stuff, and then ignore the religious obligations imposed by the religion.

    In any case, we have, I think, a diverse enough population that finding staff to man retail stores shouldn't be an issue any day of the week.

  23. I agree. I'm just inclined by nature to simplify rather than complicate. Working out a balance between your religion and your career seems to me the very definition of a private matter. Instead of always looking for solutions to every conceivable variable we ought to insist that the government just get the hell out of everybodies business.

    We ought to have a Ministry of Work That Sh*t Out Amongst Yourselves," instead of constantly pandering to every complaint and irritation under the sun. Christ, here in Ottawa we have laws about idling your car! Can you concieve of minds small enough to police such a thing?

  24. I appreciate your sentiments, but its only because our society has a few a$$holes in it, who will insist on leaving their car idling while they go in to check their mail box at the post office, or we once had a guy leave his car running in the parking lot while he had a meeting with his accountant! Okay, you're rich and this is a cold country–but seriously, a half an hour?

  25. That is, taxpayers could tick a box when they filed their returns to direct a small amount of money, say $20, to their preferred party.

    Doesn't that basically negate the anonymous ballot? It's reasonable to assume you're going to vote for the party you tick off on your tax return – and that links your name to your preference in a government database.

  26. So why let those few a$$holes determine the parameters for everyone?

    I once went to an outdoor concert with this guy I know. It was a beautiful day. We had a blanket on the grass and couple of cold beers and my toddler son was playing and dancing and checking out the people and the music and this new world. The music was good and all was right with the world. Except. Not too far from where we were sitting a temporary fence, not much more than a snow fence, had been set up to separate the paying customers (us) from the freeloaders (them). And my companion – it would be dishonest to call him a friend – was beside himself with irritation that some kids hopped the fence and got into the concert for free. It ruined it for him (and yes, he ruined it for me) because he could not just let go. He was furious that he had paid for the show and someone else was getting it for free. I predicted right then that he would be miserable all his life. And he has been.

    You can't police the whole world, and the urge to do so is unhealthy, IMO. So what if someone idles their car for half an hour? You don't know his circumstances. What if he had a faulty battery/alternator/starter and was afraid to turn off his vehicle for fear he wouldn't get it started again. How does his half an hour of idling stack up against millions & millions & millions of vehicles idling in gridlocked traffic for hours every weekday. It's not logic that's motivating your anger at "the a$$holes." It's a conditioned urge to mind everybody else's business.

    Get un-conditioned. You'll live a lot longer (and happier) and you might even stop supporting bigger, nosier, more intrusive government.

  27. Yeah, no.

    While I do have the ability to not let these things totally ruin my day, I'm out to get the "special people" of the world who seem to think the rules aren't applicable to them (apparently because they're special!). The reason we have rules is so that there is a level playing field and society runs smoothly. And the more our planet is populated, the more these rules matter. If everyone would get on the common courtesy bandwagon, we wouldn't need so many laws, but they won't so we do.

    But I am sorry your concert was ruined, by the guy that couldn't let it go, and by the special people.

  28. I'm sorry to hear it.

    It seems to me that people who want to legislate and enforce something as fundamental – but still as ephemeral – as common decency are robbing us all of the possibilty of simply living decently. The authoritarian impulse – and that is precisely what you are describing Jenn – makes all genuine virtue impossible. The only virtue in an Authoritarian society is obedience or – perhaps more accurately – submission.

    Not for me, thanks.

  29. I disagree (surprise!). People who are living courteously aren't going to suddenly stop just because now there's a law requiring them to do what they've been doing all along. It does give them recourse for the one neighbour who refuses to shovel his part of the sidewalk–making it impossible for everyone else to walk to the corner store or whatever unless someone does it for him every time, for example.

  30. OK. It's a bad one. I can't see how the vote subsidy is all that's standing between us and unconstitutional political financing laws. A ban on corporate/union donations is an infringement on the Charter right of unions and corporations doing the donating. Mendes' argues that the subsidy sustains the parties, thus making the S. 1 case that the union/corp. ban is reasonable, which seems to imply that it is the parties' Charter rights being infringed by not being allowed to receive the money. Nothing about the subsidy "balances" the loss of expression right for unions/corps, it only balances the parties' loss of funds. The real S. 1 argument is yes it limits their expression rights, but in a free and democratic society a clean, fair political process is paramount, and that all individual members of unions and corps can still play by the same donation rules as everyone else. I would think that's sufficient, but even if it wasn't, the subsidy has nothing to do with anything.

  31. Now PERHAPS Mendes means to say that it is political parties, as organizations, who are denied their Charter rights because while they are entitled to freedom of expression (in ways that are already quite limited), they are severely limited in raising the funds to engage in that expression as much as they would like. I suppose they could make the case, but it would require

    a) the Court to see this as a limit on freedom of expression.
    b) the Court to determine that these limits are not reasonable, but could be made reasonable with public funding, ie. that it is OK to limit parties' ability to raise funds but that without subsidies they cannot be reasonably expected to cover minimal operations costs.

    I think this would be a tough case to make, since at least one party seems to think it would make out just fine, and there are presently several parties who don't receive subsidies, whose Charter rights are being infringed as we speak if this is the case.

  32. I should add that the Court upheld some incredibly draconian laws in Harper v. Canada and R. v. Bryan for much the same reason of purported electoral fairness, so it already holds political expression of this type in very low regard. I'm not sure why Mendes thinks the Court's support for the union/corp donation ban would be so precarious. He only cites the US Supreme Court as an example.

  33. I'm also sure at least one of these fringe parties has tried to make that legal argument somewhere but I don't know who and am too lazy to check. Does anyone have light to shed on this?

  34. Also wrong with this article: He claims "The campaign finance laws passed by the former Liberal government eliminated all corporate and trade union contributions to political parties and limited individual donations to $1,100 annually to federal parties, with similar amounts for individual candidates." This is untrue, the individual limit in Chretien's law was $5,000, reduced to $1,100 by the Harper government. Not a big deal but getting his facts wrong so I will jump on it.

    Of more concern is his claim that Harper supported the Chretien reforms, which is flat wrong. Agree or not the political subsidy is one thing Harper and his party have been consistent on. They also reduced the individual contribution limit once in government.

    So he gets his facts wrong, makes a mixed up legal argument that wouldn't work anyway, and the filler around it is mostly overheated and meaningless (of what relevance is it to his argument that union political contributions helped advance the welfare state?) He's also a smelly Liberal. Anyone sick of me yet?

  35. You're right, although it could be said that on an issue of such obvious consequences for the political parties themselves, knowing he's a partisan of one of those parties, as it happens the one whose self-interest is most served by his argument, matters.

    That said, while I have no doubt that all of the political actors would be on the opposite side of the fence if the Tories badly trailed the Libs in individual donations, in an abstract situation you'd expect conservatives to oppose this sort of subsidy and liberals to support it.

  36. "likely to vote" doesn't negate the anonymous ballot at all.

    Consider that the reason for the anonymous ballot is basically to protect a person from feeling they have to vote a certain way because that's what family/friends/society/guy-with-big-stick-behind-them wants.

  37. In the case of AGW, those "studies" are usually done by "scientists", "peer-reviewed" and published in "science" "journals".

  38. Mostly people do work this kind of thing out for themselves. Guaranteeing freedom of religion allows them to do so from a more balanced perspective, and means that when push comes to shove the winner isn't always the body more able to push their weight around. If it offends abstract sensibilities it's a fair price to pay.

  39. Sure, a paper trail would be created….and if that is of great enough concern to that taxfiler then that person is, of course, free to not tick off the box at all. If the person wants to make a contribution in the traditional way, then presumably their name would get recorded in a party database instead of a government database. Personally I would be less worried about having my selection recoreded as a part of the Revenue Canada database, but each to his own.

    And the other thing to think about is that presumably many or even most folks who make donations to political parties are requesting the tax receipt so as to qualify for the generous rebate – as soon as they attach that receipt to their tax return they have essentially created the same linkage.

    Anyhoo, I still think it is an interesting idea.

  40. Both you and Thwim are right, of course. I hadn't really thought it through….

  41. I'm not arguing against freedom of religion, not at all. I'm arguing that freedom of religion also includes freedom from religion. I don't want government regulating hours of business – or other any other matters – with an eye to accomodating any religion.

    I don't want government regulating anything that it doesn't need to be involved in… And it doesn't need to be involved in every minor irritation & squabble that arises in day to day life. We have adults to deal with those things.

  42. Regardless of what you think your arguing for or against, the practical application of your idea is that freedom of religion would not be guaranteed and would be harder to exercise.

  43. Why not just put the tick on your ballot when you vote.

    (Unless the idea is that the $ is coming from your income tax, rather than public funds, the article doesn't actually say either way. And if that's the case, the idea isn't bad but contains considerably less merit. I would try it, and if it generates enough to replace the subsidy than go for it, if not keep trying).

  44. I don't know what kind of filters you are reading through (perhaps a welding mask?) but it is obviously pointless trying to discuss ideas with you. At no point did I say I was opposed to freedom of religion, at no point did I suggest anything that would have the practical effect of limiting freedom of religion, at no point have I ever written anything advocating less freedom of anything. You're just mouthing platitudes in a total vacuum of understanding or communication. Please stop it.

  45. I'm assuming that the system that Flanagan and his associate (Colletti?) recommend is based on taking the $20 from the taxfilers income tax refund (or adding it to his balance owing, as the case may be) not from the public purse – somewhat similar to a United Way payroll deduction. On that basis the tick mark on the ballot wouldn't be equivalent.

    Obviously I could have misinterpreted what Flanagan intended. If it really is just a method of having a greater number of people become smallish donators to political parties, complete with the 75% tax credit on that $20, well then I would have to give the idea quite a bit more thought before I could support it.

  46. People who are living courteously aren't going to suddenly stop just because now there's a law requiring them to do what they've been doing all along.

    It's not courtesy if it's mandated and enforced, it's merely compliance. They are not the same thing and the former is superior, in every way, to the latter. Courtesy is a human virtue, compliance is just a conditioned response.

  47. You may wish to re-read your comments.

  48. I totally agree that courtesy is superior to mere compliance with the law.

    However, you can be compliant with the law as a mere coincidence in how you're living your life. For example, it isn't the fact that it's against the law that's keeping me from robbing a bank, and I could use the money.

  49. Many of the benefits of the subsidy then become lost (not the least of which it favours those who file returns, and who have $ left over after taxes. And the more $ you have the less hardship it represents).

    I'm all for giving people as many opportunities as possible to make small donations to political parties. I've said before it would be awesome if everybody gave $5 a year and it all worked out to the necessary amount. Since that doesn't appear to be reality it looks like something else is going to have to be done. I'd have to say this idea is a good initiative, but not a solution.

  50. What does 'partisan' mean? A party member? A party spokesman?

    You could well be a partisan of a party at some point, and a partisan of another at another point.

    Wasn't Harper once a liberal partisan – wasn't he once a PC, then a Reformer and now a partisan of another party?

    So is Mr. Mendes a member of spokesman of a political party or he free of voting for the candidate of his choice, no matter their party affiliation?

  51. Oops,,, free to vote for the candidate of his choice and to keep this choice secret,.
    Unless Mr. Mendes is a spokesman Mr. Wherry doesn't have to mention of what party he is perceived by some to possibly be a partisan of.

  52. And you're invited to read them for the first time.

  53. I think you need to make a distinction between genuine criminality and mere discourtesy. Robbing a bank is a crime in theory and in practice. But idling your car for half an hour is only a crime in practice, in theory the justification breaks down under logical objections.

    My bottom line is that laws (generally bylaws) that try to enforce courtesy are not justified in a free society. Courtesy is a choice that we make, and it's all the more valuable for being chosen. Imposed courtesy is a contradiction in terms.

  54. lenny, you may not have been keeping abreast….I'll give you a re-cap.

    "Studies" – often found to be flawed, using incorrect data, or simply fabricating data to fit the hypothesis
    Scientiests – many of whom have now been entirely discredited.
    peer-reviewed – by equally biased, dishonest scientists of the same mind.
    published in science journals – so what….writing something that is factually wrong or dishonest does not suddenly become correct when printed in 8X11 glossy pages.

    If that's your idea of critically thinking……you are sorely open to disappointment.

  55. Loraine, Errol Mendes is consistently interviewed on the CBC, and has consistently expressed his anti-Conservatvie bias.

    His Liberal bona fides are SO WELL known…that even Aaron must have known about them.

  56. The prime minister gave a long interview to Peter Mansbridge of the CBC last week. That doesn't make him a Liberal or NDP partisan. He has recently expressed views on abortion legislation that would please most liberal-minded persons. Mendes may have an anti-Harper bias for all I know but a spokesman for the Liberal Party or the NDP he is not.

    After all, James, we live in an era when even a spokesman for the PMO, paid by taxpayers, will only speak to reporters on condition of anonymity. If reporters agree to this anonymity, I don't see why they should have to label persons on ideological lines to please a few who perceive certain opinions as "liberal". At least when Mendes speaks, we know it's his opinions and it's Errol Mendes, not some academic who speaks on condition of anonymity. As far as I know, he doesn't wear a bag over his head when he goes on tv.

  57. Actually, Loraigne, you may have a point. Let’s try it another way……

    If the CBC wants to find a guest or panellist who they KNOW holds anti-Conservative bias……who do you think they want on their program?

    -Tom Flanagan (always introduced as former Conservative Insider)

    -Tory Kenectyke (?) always introduced as Conservative Insider

    Errol Mendes – always introduced as an expert, or a University professor.

    What the CBC alwasy fails to point out, is that Errol Mendes has a long history of being opposed to Harper or Conservatives.

    That was my point.

    Of course Mendes is entitled to his views. And viewers of the CBC are entitled to know that Mr. Mendes is a long time Liberal before having to listen to his biased opinions.

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