Excellent opinion piece on why the BQ ought to be forced to run candidates outside Quebec. The Bloc only raised about $300,000 this year. They could die the leeches!!! Finally a business prof writing something useful about politics.
Knock a chip off the old Bloc - The Globe and Mail
Knock a chip off the old Bloc
Political parties should be required to win votes in more than just one province to receive the federal allowance
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Wednesday, Aug. 05, 2009 04:01AM EDT
There has been much talk recently about whether Canada is doomed, at least for the foreseeable future, to a series of unstable, short-lived minority governments. As long as the Bloc Québécois holds a lock on 40 to 50 seats in Parliament, neither of the two main political parties will have an easy time winning a majority.
True, if either had reliable coalition partners to prop it up, then minority government would not necessarily mean short-lived government. But the idea of the Bloc as a coalition partner – as last year's unhappy experiment shows – is a non-starter. Hence, we seem fated not just to minority governments, but to governments that focus far more heavily on short-term electoral success than the country's long-term needs.
What to do? One of the reasons the Bloc is able to fight elections with such vigour is that the federal Treasury provides quarterly allowances to parties based on their share of the popular vote. As long as a party earns 2 per cent of the vote nationwide – or 5 per cent in the ridings where it chooses to run candidates – then it collects $1.95 a year for each vote it wins. To the Bloc, which garnered 10 per cent of the national popular vote in last year's election, this means about $3-million annually – about 77 per cent of its funding.
But there's something jarring about this formula. After all, in other arenas of our political life, we Canadians have always moderated the principle of popular vote, of apportioning power in decision-making structures according to raw popular support, by a federalist principle.
For example, when it comes to constitutional amendments, ratification by provinces representing 50 per cent of the population is not enough; an amendment must pass muster in at least seven provinces, which requires it to win support in multiple regions of the country. When it comes to Parliament, the popular principle does not completely hold sway even in the House of Commons. Smaller provinces enjoy greater representation than their population alone would justify, thereby encouraging governments to play to more than one region.
When it comes to election law, then, why shouldn't we also moderate the principle of popular vote with the principle of federalism? Why not require that any party eligible for an allowance win, say, a minimum of 2 per cent of the popular vote in at least two regions of the country? Or 5 per cent of the vote in ridings in which it chooses to run, provided that this threshold 5 per cent was earned in more than one province's ridings? In the last election, the Conservatives, Liberals, NDP and Greens all managed this. Only the Bloc didn't, because it runs candidates exclusively in Quebec.
Implementing such a rule would not stop the Bloc from running a full slate of candidates in Quebec, only from having access to the federal allowance to do so. Nor, in fact, would it prohibit the Bloc from running candidates outside Quebec, perhaps on a Canada-wide platform of radical decentralization, and collecting an allowance if it managed to get 2 per cent of the vote in the West, say, in addition to its traditional support in Quebec.
There is an important difference between restricting funding to federal parties and restricting it to federalist parties.
The first – requiring that any party eligible for federal tax dollars win votes in more than one region – would be in keeping with the norms of Canadian federalism. The second – requiring that any party eligible for federal tax dollars support Canadian federalism – would be incompatible with basic rights.
But we can easily do the first without the second.
Bloquistes would presumably object on the grounds that 40 per cent of Quebeckers – translating into 10 per cent of Canadians – voted for the Bloc, so fairness requires that these voters not be “disenfranchised,” that the Bloc get its pro rata share of federal financial support.
Such an argument, though, would risk collapsing under the weight of its own irony. For Quebec's leaders have sought to protect its unique minority culture, over many decades, precisely by rejecting the principle of apportioning power or resources on the basis of raw popular numbers, without a due respect for the federalist principle.
That is why, for example, former Quebec premier Robert Bourassa sought to dilute the rest of Canada's popular majority by a Quebec veto over changes to the federal Constitution, requiring any amendment to win threshold public support in both Quebec and the rest of Canada. He also sought a guaranteed proportion of seats – again, mitigating the popular vote with a principle of regional distribution – for Quebec in the federal Parliament.
To ask that the federal Treasury support a party that is available only to Quebeckers is like asking it to support courts, parks, highways or other public bodies and spaces that are accessible to Quebeckers only, something that no sovereigntist politician has ever sought or expected.
True, the Treasury may channel funding for certain kinds of private entities to Quebec companies only, as for example with the Economic Development Agency for the Regions of Quebec, although Ottawa generally offers comparable programs elsewhere. Given their integral role in government, though, political parties don't resemble private so much as public entities – entities that, if the federal taxpayer is going to fund them, should be open to all Canadians.
We should, at the very least, engage in an honest debate about the party-allowance formula, and whether it should be more federalist and less purely numbers-based in its orientation. Yes, the politics of doing so would be daunting. But it might also be the first step toward returning to Canadians a critical option: electing governments that can take a longer view of the serious issues that confront the nation.
Andrew Stark is a professor of strategic management at the University of Toronto and a former policy adviser in the Prime Minister's Office under Brian Mulroney.
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