Free speech and propaganda (II) - Macleans.ca
 

Free speech and propaganda (II)


 

In something of a surprise—at least to me as I sat in the gallery waiting for Francine Lalonde’s bill to be debated—the NDP stood Tuesday evening and voted in favour of a Liberal motion that directs an end to the practice of ten-percenters. Those votes, together with those of the Bloc Quebecois, were just enough for the motion to pass by a count of 140-137.


 

Free speech and propaganda (II)

  1. So no more ten-percenters? I hope I'm understanding this correctly — wonderful news. Nobody reads them and they are a waste of resources.

    • Let's hope. But I wouldn't put it past Steve to just ignore it anyway. Or, use the 22% increase – IIRC – in the PCO/PMO budget to 'reach' out to Canadians.

    • I believe this is non-binding, but I could be incorrect. (Apparently Parliament can say things without really meaning them.)

      • In this case it IS binding. The HoC controls 10% printings, and the house has now told the board of internal economy ( a committee of the house) to determine how to implement this new rule change.

        This is not a supply motion or anything like that. The House has spoken and anyone sending 10%ers outside of their riding will be in violation of the law.

  2. I'm not sure this yet puts a stake thru the heart of the vile ten-percenters. The motion is simply direction to the House Board of Internal Economy.

    Nevertheless, if this does eventually lead to the demise of ten-percenters, whatever will Pierre Poilievre do with his time?

  3. This is the strongest environmental "policy" that Parliament has passed in four years.

    Just think of all the trees we'll save.

  4. O.Mi.God! A Coalition! Fear! Panic!

  5. Please, please let this be true! Much as I enjoy knowing he mindset of MP's from 2000 miles away, I can live without knowing what a candidate I can't vote for thinks about Ukranian-hate. No more love notes from Jack Layton, either…

  6. If this is binding, that's awesome.

    Next, let's ban per-vote subsidies.

    • Bad call.

    • Whywould you want to ban per vote subs when the tax credit sub cost us more and doesn't have any of the proportionate values of the per vote sub? The tax credit is absurdly generous, and needs looking at before the per vote subs IMHO. Every time i hear a conservative mention this issue it's always this one sub that 's mentioned…it sets off my partisan alarm buzzer, which is very irritating – please desist.

      • Fine with me, ban them both. Happy?

        • Don't follow your logic. Ten percenters are clearly being abused – i'd be happy to see them used as they were intended – in other words let pols make a political sacrifice for the common good. That does seem however to be a naive wish on my part. The tax credit subs could simply be reduced, as could the per vote. I'm starting to appreciate some of the possiblle positive effects of doing away with the subs. But i'm still not convinced, and there are definitely good reasons for keeping the per vote sub in particular: pols chase votes instead of $ ; parties are encouraged to run national campaigns [all ridings] since every vote is important financially – in other words an additional incentive to win over voters as possible. I sure i've missed a couple of good reasons.

          • The logic is that 10%ers are mainly used by the NDP and the CPC, so eliminating them helps the LPC. The per-vote subsidy mainly helps everyone but the CPC since they get a lot of voluntary donations. Ergo, when someone opposes everything but the per-vote subsidy it looks like partisanship…sort of like you attributing my opposition to per-vote subsidies (accompanied opposition to the other two items) as partisanship. See?

            Anyway, I like your point about the per-vote subsidy encouraging national campaigns. That's the first decent argument I've heard in their favour. I'm inclined to think it doesn't work, but it could be an interesting discussion.

          • I see the NDP are making a sacrifice then by your reasoning – so kudos to them. "

            The per-vote subsidy mainly helps everyone but the CPC since they get a lot of voluntary donations. Ergo, when someone opposes everything but the per-vote subsidy it looks like partisanship…"

            I see where you're going. But i think you're a little disingenuous. The CPC inherited the reformers talent for grass roots funding. They then further twisted the screw on donations after Chretien set the limits and disallowed corp/union funds. Now they want to do away with them – so who's gaming the system? [ i know Chretien set the subs at a level that would not unduly hurt the libs, but they can be reduced, and honestly he wasn't going to cut his parties throat]
            Harper, as ever is his want, overplayed his hand by trying to ban only P/V subs outright, instead of gradually eliminatihg them. In hindsight it was a monumentally stupid move. Not only did it set off a crisis that almost finished him, he arguably convinced a lot of moderate centralists [ i consider my self one] that he was never going to change, and is unworthy of his office.

    • Gaunilon, I think you simply view the $ per vote from the wrong perspective. Instead think of it as a user fee for being allowed to vote. If you vote, some small amount of the money you pay in taxes is redirected at the party you chose. It is certainly the most democratic system available for funding the necessary (in our system) evil of political parties.

      • "t is certainly the most democratic system available for funding the necessary (in our system) evil of political parties."

        Why should voting be tied to financial support? If I want to vote for a party, I do so. If I want to donate to a party, I do so. Is there any logical reason why my vote should enforce a donation? I mean, other than to keep parties alive even when their supporters are to short-sighted or uninspired to donate to them?

        • "Is there any logical reason why my vote should enforce a donation?"

          Yup, it's to allow the poor, who don't have the extra income kicking around and who don't pay enough in taxes to make it worth their while, to participate in party financing.

          Of course, if you prefer to only have the middle class, which is generally more pro-CPC than the lower class, be able to finance political parties, that's fine, but you should come out and say it.

          • exactly. the underlying principle of canadian electoral policy has been the egalitarian model, especially with respect to election expenses and the rules governing advertising expenses incurred by the political parties, candidates and 'third parties'. the per vote subsidy is an extension of this in exactly the manner Jack describes. i really wish that those who are supporters of ending the per vote subsidy would be more explicit in their writings about the implications of this action for participation of low and lower income Canadians. great post Jack!

          • Without forcing anyone to do anything they might not want to do, you can achieve the same egalitarianism by reducing the maximum donation limit to something everyone can afford, say $10. So why force taxpayers to fund political parties?

          • They fund the courts already. They fund Parliament. They fund the police. There's no opt-out clause from civil society, and political parties, like it or not, are an essential aspect of the way our civil society is organised.

          • again Jack you have landed directly on the mark. The Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing (aka the Lortie Commission) made clear the import of political parties as "primary political organizations" in Canada. The commission findings recognized parties as public utilities and the elevated role of parties is understood to have distinguished Canada from other Westminster systems.

            I was recently at a presentation that made clear that "this construction of the role of parties as public utilities, and the specific recommendations set out in the Report, laid the groundwork for subsequent legislation that now regulates some aspects of parties' internal organization and offers extensive state funding to national party organizations."

          • Not everyone can afford $10.

          • That's bogus, but ok, make it $1. Still object?

          • So what. There are lots of ways to contribute to the political process other than financially.

            Personally my job does not allow me much time to contribute to a party, although I have the money. Why doesn't the government force my emlployer to give me 1 hour per month to do volunteer work? it's the same principle.

          • I have the opposite view – kill the subsidies, kill the tax credit and eliminate donation limits. Require that every donation be publicized within 48 hours and stop all donations 7 days before an election. Have very tough audit and reporting rules to trace the sources of donations. Throw the book at violaters.

    • It's not clear to me why Canadian taxpayers are required to hand over money to private organizations over which, unless they are a member, they have no control. Even unions get to elect their leadership, vote on policy and rules. Not suggesting that Canadians get to decide on policy but surely all Canadians should decide what the constitution and procedures of each party contains, how candidates are selected etc. Let's democratize political parties so we at least get some value for our money. If parties do not want this level of public involvement then they can refuse the subsidy.

      • How would you recommend we do this? I was under the impression anyone in Canada can join a political party of their choice for a nominal fee, in which case they're able to affect the party platform. It's just that most people don't join parties because they don't particularly care or don't like any of the parties enough to join.

        • Precisely why we should eliminate taxpayer subsidies. Political parties would have to work much harder to sell their ideas. Of course there is always vulnerability to special interest…but with proper disclosure rules, this would not be an issue.

          • Eliminate taxpayer subsidies and parties that exist specifically to support disadvantaged people are at a significant disadvantage.. because the people their ideas will appeal to will generally not be in the same type of position to support a party as the party that exists specfically to support the upper-middle-class management at the expense of the disadvantaged.

            You can have the best ideas in the world, and they'd be useless if nobody hears of them.
            You can have the worst ideas in the world, but if you publish them long enough and loud enough, people will start to believe them. That is, after all, the entire point behind propaganda. If it didn't work, it wouldn't exist.

            So eliminating taxpayer subsidies and relying instead on donations simply means those who can afford to put their propaganda forward in the first place are the ones most likely to make gains, and the ideas become worthless.

        • Katherine, am I reading you right? No way we Canadians would be caught dead shelling out ten measly bucks a year (or whatever) for a party membership, because we don't like the parties… and this is an argument for snatching the dough from all of us deliberate non-members instead?

          Maybe I am misunderstanding your point.

          • If you don't want to give a party your money, don't give them your vote either. It's pretty simple.

  7. I wonder if Harper will refuse to comply with the valid order and say the other parties can call an election if they don't like it? Maybe appoint a former supreme court justice to look into the matter.

    • If I understand correctly, Harper does not have any choice. This is one of those times when we can see that our Parliament is actually a fusion of legislative and executive. Harper (as Executive) has to comply with the wishes of the Legislative branch. He cannot override an internal House committee except by a vote in the HoC.

  8. Can you point me to the "legislation that now regulates some aspects of parties' internal organization and offers extensive state funding to national party organizations." Thanks

  9. If we're looking at alternate measures to save the taxpayer's money, how about reducing the need to fundraise by limiting the amount of advertising and polling a party can do? It hampers two of the biggest moneysuckers parties need money for and would probably raise the level of political discussion. It affects the current situation of most parties fairly equally. It might even make it more likely for parties to stand on principle, rather than constantly calculating and trying to second guess the public.

    • by limiting the amount of advertising and polling a party can do?

      Ah, freedom. Does anyone remember freedom?

  10. What right have we to dictate how parties choose to allocate their money? How about we stop funding them with taxes, let individuals decide whether to support them, and then if they seem to be wasting our money we can simply decide not to support them. It's sort of the same thing that keeps unsubsidized companies from wasting their money and annoying their customers.

  11. I'm not thinking about the party platform but rather "procedures". For example how and when leaders are chosen, how and when candidates are chosen, how much funding can be spent on certain expense categories. This is simply having a say in how our money is spent. This could be done by an expert panel of citizens, a parliamentary committee (that's how parliamentary rules are set) I'm not in favour of one approach or another but to simply hand over millions of dollars without a say in how things work is disrespectful of the taxpayer. As noted if a party didn't want this level of public involvement they could refuse the subsidy.

    • Your point about governance is a good one.

  12. the flaws in this argument have been adequately pointed out above. Practically increasing the ability of our democracy to serve the needs of its citizens outweighs quaint notions of libertarain laissez-faire policy.

  13. No, my dear boy, it ain't. It's bogus among people you know and interact with, I have no doubt, but not the entirety of our fair country.

    And both $1 and $10 caps may leave parties without the ability to meet even their minimal expenses, which serves no one.

  14. A quick survey of the report suggests that it's finance and financial reporting that is of greatest concern not the operation of the party. It does suggest that the parties' policies and procedures be transparent but not necessarily based on principles set by the taxpayer even though the report recognized that the public disapproves of many of the operating procedures of parties. For example leadership chosen by "one member one vote" seems like a principle that should be demanded by the taxpayer in return for a subsidy.

    • NMNP, i do trust you recognize the importance of the conditional "some" in that quoted sentence. today is a busy day otherwise, but i am sure you can do some digging.

  15. I believe what you describe decreaes the ability of our democracy to serve the needs of its citizens. How would reducing my access to information benefit democracy? We have an imperfect system to be sure. Every ad I see every policy plank everything – helps me make up my mind about a politician. Limiting this hurts democracy it doesn't help it.

  16. If $1.95 per vote is sufficient to keep parties afloat, I'm sure $1 can also be managed. I'm even more sure that $10 can be managed. The CPC had over 5 million votes in the last election.

    As to whether people can afford it, let's start with this: no one starves by necessity in Canada. No one. If someone chooses to give up just one drink in favour of water, or even gives up one meal, they can save a few bucks to donate. I've done this to donate to worthy causes in times of severe financial hardship. It can be done by any voting-age Canadian.

  17. But we could INCREASE it with other measures! Instead of advertising, more debates! More policy development! Advertising is only one way in which we consume political information, and it is one of the least useful.

    • I agree their should be more debates and their should be more discussion of policy. I'm not convinced that would happen. Also more debates might mean that the quality of being a good debater is more important than being a good leader (advertising perhaps even more imperfect).

      The spot I'm coming from is that political speech has been repressed for centuries and still is in most geographies. I am hesitant to put limits on it other than rules around transparency and disclosure.

  18. Even if we take the unwarrented step of assuming all of this is true, the number of people who would actually take the positive step of donating. $1.95 isn't sufficient by itself, but when its tabulated per tax payer it can be a big chunk.

    Your plan just isn't practical.

  19. I guarantee you, those of us who care about our political future will take that positive step. And that is exactly the sort of donation you want, if good political parties are to thrive at the expense of lousy ones.

  20. I like it, but how do you stop rich ideologues from buying the election for their preferred candidate?

    • I tend to like yyz view. Transparency is the iissue. I'm not so sure the old system was so bad, apart from it's lack of transparency [big but]. My understanding was the corps tended to bet on all the horses in the race[ favouring the likely winner no doubt] but they tended to give to both large parties – the unions of course went with the ndp naturally. Where the money came from was always the issue. If it's open and public there would be a deal of incentive not to nakedly participate indubious lobbying efforts – not to mention all the cozy relationships with politicians. Does anyone really believe that dubious and politically motivated lobbying has magically disappeared – it's just gone underground. Still, with a gov't sub or private donations the big money players would seem to have less leverage over the GOTD. But i wonder how much they ever really did, and where all the lobbying has gone – because the motive is still there.

    • It won't — that's why the rules and processes around disclosure are so important. If I want to run on the backs of a special interest it should be disclosed and I should be subject to the appropriate voter scrutiny, with help from the 4th estate.

  21. Your guarantee isn't worth that much compared with the likelihood and consequences of its failure. A small per vote small subsidy favours everyone and helps free ridership, rather than empoweing an engaged fringe.

  22. I agree but if we carry on with subsidies we can at least have a say in the minimum standards we set for party participation in the funding.

    • I don't think we should have a say. That should be up to the party.

  23. Much like just hoping people give a small amount, the practical take up rate is just too low to work effectively.

    • That's simply not true (re. hoping people give a small amount):

      See Obama, Barack.

      • It's not at all similar.

    • Although I agree $10 is too low.

  24. All citizens who care enough to donate to a political party are "an engaged fringe"? Nice.

  25. there's actually a pretty strong possibility that the number of people who would go to the trouble to donate a limit of say $2 would not be reflective of the political makeup as a whole.

  26. There's just as strong a possibility that the number of people who go to the trouble to vote is also not reflective of the political makeup as a whole.

  27. That's probably true but it's a far better system and a better approximation. And the golden mean where we provide funding might be best represented by those who vote and how they vote, rather than the edges of those who don't vote and those who would voluntarily make a tiny donation.

  28. If your goal is to have a representative slice of the population funding parties, then you should really just turn the per-vote subsidy into a head tax.

    But if your goal is to have the best possible government, then having those who care and pay attention be the ones who donate to political parties is an advantage, not a disadvantage.

    • And we stll haven't established that restricting donations to $1 or $10 or relying on voluntary donations generates anywhere near the funds required, which is still the bigger issue than who is engaged or not.

  29. there are plenty of people who pay lots of attention and who care deeply about politics but whose opinion is worth a great deal less than somebody with almost no engagement who still votes. Engagement, esp. to the point of being willing to make a donation is hardly the magic indicator of anything. For example, government by small dead animals would be a disaster, yet they are some of the most committed citizens in the country. There should be some representation of the middle to mitigate the edges.

    Your head tax idea is interesting and might allow voters to change the direction of their subsidy between elections. But if it is an actual head tax it is still regressive, and would appear to be limited to actual taxpayers.

    • There should be some representation of the middle to mitigate the edges. Even though they can't be bothered to represent themselves. Ah, freedom. Anyone remember freedom?

  30. I suspect there will unintended consequences to this that the opposition has failed to foresee. For example, "leakage" of householders across riding boundaries where these do not line up with bulk mail distribution areas. Also, the CPC is in a better position than the others to replace the 10%-ers with party mailings — are they subject to the same content restrictions?

    • Yeah, i'm not so sure an outright ban is called for. I'm a believer, to a degree anyway, in the principle of public shaming or aversion theory. As these ten % become more and more over the top and or distasteful, to what degree are they really effective? Do they only preach to the choir? The disgusting anti-semetic flyers in liberal ridings targeted at the Jewish community may even have had a unintended negative effect – people were offended, insulted even. But again, maybe i'm just being naive.

  31. The question of corporations (or all organizational) giving is a tricker one. Oddly, despite my free speechish views, I'd seriously consider banning donations entities that do not vote.

    Here's why: Corporate officers have a legally binding fiduciary duty to serve their shareholders best interests. If that includes financing an election campaign of someone who will give them a big contract or create favourable policy, arguably they should do it. Taken to the extreme, there is no good reason for a corporation to make political contributions, unless they believe they will see a benefit to their bottom line.

    • I am with you there, YYZ, with direct contributions, but I would not want to restrict their freedom to advertise. Let the reader / listener / viewer hear any and all point of views, with the proviso that the "This is a message from Corporation Limited" is loud and clear, and, here comes the best part, let the voters, considering the self-interested source, decide for themselves how much or little to be swayed by the arguments.

  32. Ah yes, the 4th estate. You are assuming, of course, that the special interest in question is not a major media organization, or even something with which most media organizations sympathize. That's a very dubious assumption.

  33. Indeed, but it goes back to disclosure.

    My view here is pretty straightforward. There are lots of reasons why messages can be twisted, lots of inequities (perceived and real), issues with media bias and all that. Naturally a poltician's instinct is to create rules to correct the inequities – some favour per vote subsidies, others favour contribution limits, I favour strict disclosure rules.

    To me, this is fundamentally an issue of freedom of speech. If a billionaire climate change activist want to finance a campaign fine. If a billionaire oil baron wants to do it, I'm fine with that too. Just give me their NAME and let me judge for myself.

    If we would allow someone to run for a position, then we should allow them to write a big, fat cheque.

    See my view on corporate contributions (which gets at your media point) above.

  34. are you concerned with stopping the possibility of rich folk or other special interests buying the election or are you concerned with just making them do so in a transparent manner. if you are concerned with the former, clearly the US example suggests that transparency in this regard means little.

  35. And I'm more for practical solutions for improvement than vague hyperbole.

  36. Just to be clear, which special interest in the US do you believe bought which elections?

    I am saying quite clearly, if voters are tolerant of a special interest "buying" an election, then why should we argue with that? Isn't that democracy?

    It has to be supported by appropriate libel and transparency laws, as well as strict rules around government contracts, independant auditors and all of that etc. etc. etc..

    • no. being "tolerant" of something is not democracy. if that is your definition of democracy I have not idea why we are bothering to go through the motions of having a discussion. it will be futile. scores of people are tolerant of things for all kinds of reasons (e.g., they can't actually affect the matter; they will be severely sanctioned for not tolerating it; they are lazy), that is a far cry from being a democratic support of said issue/behaviour/etc.

      strict laws of transparency, libel and audit regulations already exist in the US and yet we already know that American election outcomes (and the legislative results that follow) are highly influenced/controlled by special interests $$$ that flow through the lobbyist system. or are you arguing that the American lobbyist regime is impotent in securing electoral and legislative outcomes???

  37. My 1 hour volunteer work is not something I believe in, just trying to make a point that I don't think we shouldn't legislate ways for unnderrepresented groups to have a role in the political process…they already have lots of ways.

    However, the notion that you can't raise a lot of money with smallish donations is flawed.

  38. I appreciate your principled stand on this issue and the arguments it produces. I also seem to be in the minority, which is fine, I can accept defeat. However there is nothing vague about my proposed solution and nor is it hyperbolic. But just to clarify

    – End political subsidies – do it with fair warning so that parties can plan for it.
    – Remove campaign contribution limits. Install aggressive disclosure rules.
    – Ban donations from corporations, unions and any entities that cannot vote. Only citizens who are legally eligible to vote should be able to make contributions

    I agree with you, this means people with more money are financing campaigns. This does not bother me. Guess what: people with more money finance EVERYTHING. Lots of them are still very good people.

  39. this paper provides a good overview of the relevant legislation to the operation of Canada's electoral system and it evolution, including legislation that governs parties.

  40. Isn't "freedom" that weird concept that Canadians used to take pride in and fight for back in the bad old days before the government began caring and sharing for everyone? I hear it was pretty awful … people actually had to make decisions and stuff.

  41. It was worse than that, G. People actually were expected to live with their decisions. Oh, the humanity!

  42. I'm mad Harper has said he views this motion as "non-binding" and so he will continue the practice of using our hard-earned tax dollars to pay for his propaganda. Well, this is the guy who views our Constitution and his own Four-Year-Term Election Law as non-binding, and the guy who thinks it doesn't matter what you do, it only matters what you can make people believe you are doing, so I am not surprised. But I really wish he'd stop using our tax dollars for his advertizing–like plastering the country with $150-million-dollars-worth (just for 2009) of Economic Action Plan road signs ($45 million) and ads ($105 million) is going to change the fact he ran up a record deficit of $54 billion–much of it structural, and thus cannot be blamed on the recession–and the unemployment rate is still far worse today than it was 16 months ago. http://www.canadianlabour.ca/national/news/jobs-c
    http://impolitical.blogspot.com/2009/11/5-45-mill

  43. Interesting. Harper has changed his mind: he had said he considered the motion non-binding and would continue the practice, but now he has flip-flopped and has agreed it is "a good idea." I saw a poll in a paper yesterday that asked people to vote for either the stated Conservative position of "they are essential to democracy" or the stated Liberal position of "they are a waste of tax payer money" and 97% had voted for the Liberal position. So I guess maybe Harper saw that poll too, and changed his position.

    • Good. He's learning.

  44. Seriously: to become a libertarian is to renounce responsibility for all your political ideas. One clean break from having to take responsibility as a citizen.

  45. You mean…. [shudders]… consequences?? I think they call it CONsequences as a sort of dog-whistle from the right-wing Rovian evilmongers who invented it to their base.

    • that is rich coming from two harper-fanatics that spend half their time on here saying the liberals, did it first! the liberals did it first!

      • Nice try. Not. I don't believe I have ever used a Liberals-did-it-first argument. Although there is likely a Harper-learned-from-Chretien theme to the occasional post. I can GUARANTEE it has not employed half my time here at Blog Central.

        If you think I am a Harper fanatic, I invite you to check out my ID user page, to correct your misimpression.

        • I think by "two Harper fanatics" he must be referring to me and my alternate personality.

          Actually, now you mention it, I didn't know I was a Harper fanatic. And neither did I.

        • indeed myl i must have been confused as to whom i was responding to, besides Gaunilon. apologies extended. you are indeed a hard individual to pin down given your tendency to call them line you see them. there have been more than one day on the boards where I have found myself in full agreement with you on a matter and at total odds with you on another (or vice versa) with whiplash speed. again, sincere apologies.

          • Friendly suggestion for whiplash prevention: feel free to agree with my wisdom at all times.
            ;)

          • Funny. I thought the solution was the polar opposite.Sent from my iPhone