Doug Ford tilts the political playing field in his favour

The “per vote subsidy” to Ontario political parties and their riding associations was introduced in 2016 as part of a comprehensive set of reforms to reduce the power of big money in the province’s politics.  Specifically, those reforms included the elimination of corporate and union donations to which political parties had long been quite dependent for the finances, which raised the perennial question of conflicts of interest. Corporations in particular have quite distinct agendas for public policy, which many viewed as having had too much weight vis-à-vis the public interest.  It was argued quite reasonably that replacing that dependency with a public subsidy would be good for democracy and hence well worth the quite reasonable expense.

How does the subsidy work?  Each central party receives a subsidy based on a formula which multiplies the number of valid votes won by that party in the preceding provincial election by a per-vote number specified in the legislation and adjusted annually for inflation.  The formula works somewhat differently for riding associations.  The legislation specifies the same fixed total annual amount for every riding in the province ($6,250 in 2017) and divides that up among the riding associations whose candidates won at least 5% of the vote in the previous election, allocated proportionately to the share of valid votes won.  The allowance is distributed quarterly by Election Ontario.  This subsidy is especially valuable in rural ridings in which donation money can be very hard to come by.

Conservatives have tended to dislike public subsidies, both on principle and due to tactical considerations.  Populist politicians like Mr. Ford find it much easier that centrist, reason-based parties like ours because the fundraising tactics are much more effective in amassing large campaign war chests from small donations.  They do so by peppering their based supporters with a continuous flow of shallow, divisive, misleading and often untruthful email messages which trigger anger at whatever carboard target they have chosen to cover their appeal for yet another small donation to set things right.

The NDP have adopted that strategy from a left-leaning perspective.  Their fundraising emails are not quite as objectionable, but also portray complex issues in an unrealistically simplified manner.

Liberal can’t and mustn’t compete because to do so would violate our core values.  We approach public policy and the issues of the day by recognizing inherent complexity and seeking long-term, evidence-based solutions that are in the public interest.  We can’t allow populism to crowd out good government.  But we also can’t compete financially unless Liberals recognize the need to donate sufficiently generously and consistently to offset the divisive approaches of our PC and NDP opponents.

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