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Abolish Privately-Funded Politics to Prevent Another WE Scandal | Op-Ed

The Takeaway: Scandals like WE aren’t new. For years, politicians have had no other option than to seek funding, publicity, and advertising from self-interested organizations like WE. It’s time we fixed that by paying for our democracy again.

  • Imagine every phone call, email, or letter you received from a political party included an accessible and transparent point-by-point breakdown of what that party believed, and how it wanted to represent you.
  • Now remember what most “political outreach” in this country actually looks like:
    • “Chip in a $50 one-time gift to defeat Scheer”
    • “Help stop Trudeau with $13 a month”
    • “Become a VIP max donor for just $1625!”

Why all the fundraising? The simple answer is that the less public funding for political parties, the more parties must fundraise. When that stops being an annoyance and starts being an ethical concern is the moment politics are 100% privately funded.

Privately-Funded Politics:

  • As of 2015, political parties in Canada receive $0 in up-front public funding.
  • Before that, parties received annual government support doled out at $2 for every vote that a party received in the previous election in the form of a per-vote-subsidy. This was the biggest source of funding parties had.
  • Now, politicians rely 100% on individual donations from Canadians.

Political Corruption:

  • Since public funding vanished, shady third party organizations and special interests have filled that void with their infinitely deep pockets.
  • The Liberal and Conservative parties allocate more of their energy into pleasing bigwig political stakeholders like WE Charity than they do fighting for the Canadian electorate. 
  • Why? Well, free advertising, for one thing.
  • As Jack Layton once put it, privately funded campaigns “open the door for big money to come back into politics.”

What changed? This abolition of government-funded politics is (predictably) Stephen Harper’s doing. He knew that if you eliminate up-front political financing, parties will need to rely on sketchy private-sector partnerships, a practice that’s as blue as Conservatives’ cold blood.

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How Money Strangles Democracy:

  1. Erodes voter interest in politics: Canadian voter turnout has been declining since 1963. Compare our 2019 voter turnout (66%) to the last elections in more social-democratic countries with public political funding: Sweden (87%), Denmark (86%), Belgium (90%).
  2. Puts special interests over Canadians: Trudeau’s Liberal government met with pharmacare lobbyists 850 times between Nov. 2 2015 and Sept. 6 2019. Yet, Canadians still don’t have universal pharmacare.
  3. Wastes your tax dollars: The Liberal government was ready to give away $912 million to WE, a “social enterprise” that has promoted Justin Trudeau’s image, paid his family and his finance minister’s family, and is currently in massive amounts of debt.
  4. Puts publicity over policy: In 2019, the Liberal party was so busy campaigning, they didn’t release their platform until 3 weeks before the election night. The Conservatives? 10 days. Is that enough time for 37 million people to digest complex political ideas?

Our democratic values have taken a turn as of late. What does that have to do with a massive charity that claims to tackle world poverty? (Key word: “claims”).

WE Live in a Society Where:

  • WE effectively campaigns for Trudeau, and holds events that are often mandatory for high school students. As Justin Trudeau will often say, he cares about the youth (vote).
  • Trudeau’s mother, brother and wife have frequently spoken at WE events and have been paid amply for doing so. Sophie Trudeau even hosts a podcast for WE.
  • It doesn’t stop at Trudeau. WE paid Finance Minister Bill Morneau $41,366 in travel expenses, they pressured their employees to “fill the room” at his events, and his daughter works for the charity.

Don’t Be Charitable with WE. They won’t return the favour. Despite getting a $912 million grant from the government, WE had planned to pay their workers $10/hr, far beneath minimum wage.

The government has given WE multiplesole source” contracts, which is the charitable sector equivalent of a monopoly. Think the Amazon of the Canadian charity circuit, labour-rights violations included.

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Concrete Steps Toward a Canadian Democracy:

  • The first healthy step Trudeau’s government can immediately take is to bring back the $2 per-vote subsidy. This policy that Jack Layton’s NDP proposed greatly strengthened political integrity in Canada, and put meaning into the phrase “every vote counts.”
  • An even healthier step Trudeau’s government can take is to directly fund political parties for all of their campaign needs. Every dollar a party spends is already about 50% tax-payer funded. The problem is that parties are reimbursed post-election and are responsible for raising 100% of their expenses up front.

Let’s break it down: In 2015, total election expenditures for all parties were $121 million. Canadian’s paid about half of that, after the fact of course.

That means that the cost of a stronger Canadian democracy is about $60 million every 2-4 years. Sound like a lot of money? Well…

Let’s compare prices: Trudeau’s government was ready to pay nearly $1 billion to a company that wanted to pay students less than minimum wage because, make no mistake, they are politically motivated partners.

Bottom Line: Yes, the deep ties between WE and the Trudeau government are unethical, but it’s worse than that. The Liberal party is wasting your tax dollars, encouraging exploitative youth employment, and eroding public faith in politicians.

It’s time we abolish privately-funded politics in favour of full, democratic, public financing. Let US take our politics back from people like WE.


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