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.

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