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Return to sender

By Audra Mitchell
web posted March 10, 2003

Jean Chrétien: he's the gift that just keeps on giving. For months, our nation's leader has been preparing his "legacy", festooning his finale with prime ministerial presents. As if ten years of his Liberal leadership weren't endowment enough, we will now receive added bonuses. Ironically, one of these gifts is a law that prohibits giving, at least from corporations and unions to political parties. This may indeed reduce conflicts of interest between politicians and the private sector, but Chrétien's cadeau comes with a catch. The potential losses to party funding caused by this law will be recovered through taxation, and, not surprisingly, the government in power will be compensated to the highest degree. Congratulations. You are about to become a proud supporter of the Liberals, the Canadian Alliance, the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP, the Bloc Quebecois, and, lest we forget, the Natural Law Party. Your tax dollars will be working to fund a Liberal "legacy" that is fast transforming into a dynasty. Democracy is about to become a Crown Corporation.

Jean Chrétien

Ostensibly, this law proposes to limit corruption during election campaigns. Cases of patronage amongst political parties and private corporations are all too common- we need look no further than the source of this legislation (need I mention the words "Shawinigate" or "Group Action"?). Perhaps this act to ban corporate and union donations is a gesture of penitence from our leader, renowned as he is for his meekness and humility. However, it is one thing to limit donations to combat rent-seeking activity by businesses. It is quite another to deny people the ability to support their party through their own means. Democracy is meant to be a venue of choice, not of political coercion and denial.

It is also a shame that this law, which lauds itself as an attack on corruption, is a thinly veiled attack on a certain Liberal leadership hopeful. It is no secret that Mr. Martin's "war-chest" consists largely of corporate funding. However, regardless of where his popularity lies, Mr. Martin has every right to gain and accept support. It is disturbing that the Prime Minister is playing with the laws of our country in order to satisfy a personal vendetta.

Yet that is far from the worst of it. This law proposes to extract taxes from all citizens to pay for political parties .This effectively denies the right of Canadians to support (or not support!) the party of their choice. What's worse, the party that will receive the most funding is that which won the most votes in the last federal election. What a coincidence that this party just happens to be the one enacting the law! While Chrétien may believe that he and his party have a "mandate" to lead this country indefinitely, our electoral system and constitution do not.

It seems that Chrétien and his cronies have anticipated this hitch, and come up with a solution: why not simply change the Canadian system of democracy? Under this new law, democracy would become a government ward, a new form of social service, and a program of welfare for political parties. And what ever happened to checks and balances? By using tax revenues to fund political parties, the party in power could, theoretically, allocate funding as it pleased. Forgive me if this doesn't sound suspiciously like "patronage" and "corruption". If political parties are run by the government, then democracy will be officially institutionalized. Our electoral system is meant to ensure that it is the voice and opinion of the citizenry that determines our governance. Yet if the government is dictating democracy, who is directing the government?

The only conceivable way in which this law could succeed is if parties were only allowed a specific campaign budget period, regardless of the source of funding. Even that would be an abrogation of democratic freedom, but anything is preferable to a political tax.

Chrétien's proposed law would do more than simply revoke the right of corporations and unions to donate to federal parties. If this were truly a concession made in the interests of eliminating corruption, it would be justifiable. Yet this law is one which would legislate political corruption, and remove our country one step further from freedom. Canadians must not be deprived of their political and ideological choice, or taxed so that this might be accomplished.

Jean Chrétien may regard himself as God's gift to Canadian politics, but Canadians cannot accept a government monopoly on politics. This federal farewell package is one that we must, as a nation, return to sender.

This is Audra Mitchell's first contribution to Enter Stage Right. She is the president of the Queen's Canadian Alliance Association.

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