Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A two dollar subsidy to keep Canada united?

The case for not touching the design of public subsidies for Canada’s major national parties has finally reached for the brass ring—Canada’s national unity. Toronto Star’s National Affairs Columnist James Travers raised the old flag in a weekend column entitled, “Harper risks national unity in bid to end political subsidies.”
“Not much annoys many Canadians more than taxpayer support for a movement bent on tearing the country apart. So there’s no surprise in the loud applause from some places, notably the West, for the re-cycled Conservative plan to stop paying all parties $2 annually for each vote cast for them in the most recent election.
Lost in all that noise is a counter-intuitive truth. There is no bigger bargain than channelling rogue and destructive forces into legitimate and constructive political practices. . .
Politics is about winning and winning often demands taking risks. But it would be reckless to jeopardize a Canadian success to soothe what is nothing more than an irritant.”
Has giving the Bloc Quebecois annually some $2.8 million in public funds domesticated separatist representation in Ottawa? Not likely.
Surely, what’s turned the Bloc into a caucus of “constructive” parliamentarians has been the success of Canadian federalism on the ground in Quebec. Bloc Members of Parliament “stand up” for Quebec the way MPs from other regions of Canada promise to do. Bloc MPs go as far as their supporters want them to go. 
Certainly, acting to change public subsidies in a way that explicitly hurts one party would offend taxpayers who vote for that party, other fair-minded Canadians and even potentially the courts. However, there are principled objections to the status quo. And, in principle, it must be possible to change the status quo and be fair.
 Is it healthy and fair that established political parties today receive 40% to 90% of their annual operating funds from a public funding mechanism designed by elected politicians? Can tax credit supported, transparent, voluntary individual contributions play a bigger role in supporting political parties? Can a better balance be struck that supports grassroots fund-raising, competent national parties and, yes, reasonable access for new insurgent parties in the future?
Harper’s opposition to the $2 per vote subsidy invites these questions to be discussed in the next election and allows that discussion to influence future legislative changes. Canadian democracy can accommodate such a discussion without inflaming national divisions. As Pierre Trudeau said and proved Canada is strong enough to endure a good argument.

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