CANADA

HOW TO SUCCEED, FRUGALLY

BACKSTAGE OTTAWA

Anthony Wilson-Smith November 8 1993
CANADA

HOW TO SUCCEED, FRUGALLY

BACKSTAGE OTTAWA

Anthony Wilson-Smith November 8 1993

HOW TO SUCCEED, FRUGALLY

BACKSTAGE OTTAWA

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH

In the 47 days of the election campaign lies routinely witnessed an extraordinary just passed, observers at Reform party ral-

spectacle in modern politics: hundreds— sometimes thousands—of people willing to pay up to $10 to hear a politician speak. Everywhere that Preston Manning went, Reform supporters either bought tickets or put money in a hat to cover the cost of the

rented hall, sandwiches, coffee and other expenses. Reform not only ended the election campaign debt-free but may, say party officials, show a small profit.

Political parties need not show a profit during election campaigns— but neither should they post horrendous losses.

Reform, with 19 per cent of the popular vote, will have 52 members of Parliament and a balanced chequebook. The Progressive Conservatives, with 16 per cent of the vote, have two MPs and a debt that senior party figures say probably approaches $6 million—despite public assertions from other officials that the total is $3 million.

How can two rightwing parties that pride themselves on being fi-

nancially responsible end up with such wildly different balance sheets? One answer is that Reform is still essentially a regional par-

ty: the costs of such items as travel and advertising are reduced accordingly. With no Quebec candidates, they saved the cost of running a parallel campaign in French.

But those factors alone do not give Reform enough credit—or the Tories enough blame. The Tories—and, to different degrees, the Liberals and New Democrats—ran vastly more expensive, traditional campaigns with far more television and print advertising. The Liberals, for example, estimate that they spent about $7 million, with about $4 million of that going for advertising. But how much money is really needed when there is little

evidence that TV ads actually increased the Liberals’ vote—and in the case of the Tories’ famous attack ads on Jean Chrétien, ample evidence that it was counterproductive? Both parties received large amounts of money in corporate donations, while the NDP received money from its allies in the unions. Reform and the Bloc Québécois relied much more on individual donations.

The Liberals acknowledge that they ended the campaign in debt, but as the new government they will find eager donors soon enough. Still, some remember their own crippling experience in 1984, when they were soundly beaten by the Tories and ended up $4 million in

debt—an amount that caused them to worry about their survival. Now, it is the Tories’ turn to face such debts, and doubts.

There is already agreement among some members of all parties that the present federal electoral financing act should be reformed. One option under discussion is to copy Quebec’s electoral law, which bans donations by private or public corporations and restricts the amount that any citizen may give to $3,000. It has the advantage of countering the widespread perception

that parties are pawns of the corporations that fund them. Reform officials are studying that proposal; in the meantime, they advocate abolishing tax credits for companies making con-

tributions. Most members of the Bloc also like the Quebec law, passed by the Parti Québécois government in 1977.

But it is possible to find a way to get around almost any law. In Quebec, for example, some companies give each director $3,000 shortly before an election, with the implicit understanding that they, in tum, will give it to a specific political party. But toughening a law sends an important signal. For different reasons, the Tory and Reform performances in this election answer decisively the question of whether the party with the most money can buy the most votes. Some Liberals think that banning corporate donations would be a way of ensuring that question need not be asked again. But their leader’s view is not yet clear.