Getting rid of the per-vote subsidy was a mistake. Let’s bring it back!

The repeal of the per-vote subsidy by the Conservatives in 2011 was a bad idea to begin with. It was rammed through by a governing party in less need of it than other parties and was seen to favour parties that cater to higher-income voters. All the other parties opposed its removal. Discussions about bringing the subsidy back have continued since then, and have recently come to the fore again, despite current preoccupations with the COVID-19 crisis.

Brought in by Jean Chretien in 2004, the per-vote subsidy was a significant step forward in democratizing our electoral system. Public funding of this sort helps to create a level playing field where the rich don’t unduly influence elections. and helps make every vote count by tying each vote to a financial benefit for the party of one’s choice. This forces parties to care about votes in ridings other than swing ridings.

With everyone currently focused on the COVID-19 crisis, most parties would no doubt welcome the breathing room that restitution of the subsidy would provide, so they can focus on recovery from the crisis rather than fundraising. Ordinary citizens, too, would benefit from the relaxation of financial pressure to support the party of their choice.  

Set against these benefits, the cost of reinstating the subsidy would be quite modest. A 2018 report pegged the cost of the per-vote subsidy at 44 million a year, a mere .03% of the $146 billion the government has announced so far to help Canadians weather the storm of COVID-19.

In a recent interview with the Hill Times, House Finance Committee chair Wayne Easter acknowledged that the per-vote subsidy “should never have been cut in the first place.” However, he qualified his statement by saying he does not consider this an appropriate moment to bring it back.

This caveat by the Honourable Mr. Easter “deserves a closer look,” according to Fair Vote Canada President, Réal Lavergne. He notes that policies like this are always contentious because of their partisan considerations and the search for advantage by different parties. “What this means is that we need to take advantage of special moments like the present one to make changes in line with the public interest. We have such a moment right now and should seize the opportunity while it lasts.”

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