The cost of apathy

In its first budget, the Conservative majority has made good on its promise to end the per-vote subsidy. A few Canadians have identified this as a kick at democracy and a chance to hobble the opposition. It could be.

In its first budget, the Conservative majority has made good on its promise to end the per-vote subsidy.

A few Canadians have identified this as a kick at democracy and a chance to hobble the opposition.

It could be. That depends on the nation … on you.

Today, it is simply not good enough for people to grouse about threats to democracy.

Talk is cheap. What are you going to do about it?

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s plan is to phase out the $2.04 per vote annual subsidy over several years, reducing it by 50 cents a year.

On September 30, $29.2 million will flow to the parties. That will be reduced by about $8.3 million the next year, and so on.

So, by 2015-16, the subsidy will be gone – right on the doorstep of the next election.

The end of the subsidy is unfortunate.

It was an elegantly simple way of funding the nation’s political system. You cast a vote for a political organization, you loaned it a bit of power and also handed it a $2 annual contribution for its expenses through the taxes you paid every year.

Now, parties are responsible for raising their own cash from supporters.

The Conservative party has created a sophisticated spreadsheet of its benefactors (just ask the hackers who stole that data earlier this week, making off with a dazzling amount of personal information from party donors), and it has proved pretty effective at regularly hitting them up for cash.

The other parties haven’t been as clever at selling themselves. That will now change – they will all be shilling for change and storing that personal data on hackable central databases.

Because, mounting an election campaign is expensive.

And while the Conservative party has no interest in raising taxes, its cancellation of the subsidy represents a user fee on democracy.

And now, if you’re interested in preserving it, you have to pay for it.

Accounting for the phasing out of the subsidy, your vote in the last election will give a total of $5 in federal money to the party of choice over the next four years.

To compensate the party for the money it would have received had the subsidy not been revoked, a voter should pony up an extra $5 by 2015-16.

And in the future, to guarantee a robust democracy, you will have to pay your favourite party a minimum of $2 a year between elections. That represents the minimum user fee.

Of course, it’s purely voluntary. You don’t have to pay, or do, anything.

While politics is a passion for a small percentage of Canadians, for most it’s an abstraction – something that generates more hostility and bother than tangible benefits.

And paying for it, while not expensive, just adds another niggle to your life.

It is just something else to do.

So your apathy in this is totally understandable.

In fact, it’s expected.

The Conservative Party of Canada is banking on it.

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