The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The value of a vote

In the 2006 general election, 64.6 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots. The majority voted for candidates who were not elected. This is typical in a first-past-the-post electoral system.

However, even though it is entirely possible to be among the 60-70% of voters whose votes don't count toward winning candidates, your vote still has value.

Every party that receives 2% or more of the national vote, or 5% in any riding, receives federal funding for future infrastructure and campaigning. The amount currently comes out to about $1.75 per vote. The Green Party especially has noticed the difference. Odds are increasingly good that the Christian Heritage Party is poised to make the next breakthrough ... although possibly not this election, if economics ever break through societal mores and tolerances to become the primary issue of this campaign.

(I am slightly amazed that it has not yet. Are we assuming that Ontario's manufacturing losses are the tip of a non-existent iceberg? Do we assume that raw resources will sell as normal into the imploding economy south of the border?)

Parties and individual candidates are also permitted to receive donations, but not from corporations, trade unions, or any other association. The maximum they may receive from any individual is $1,100 per year to each of a registered party, a leadership candidate, or a candidate running for office in a riding. Candidates are not allowed to accept gifts or in-kind donations at all.

However, there are no restrictions if you have the money to spare, and want to donate additionally to candidates outside your own riding. As was explained to Rick Mercer, the limitation is intended as a restriction on how much the candidate is allowed to receive, not how much you are allowed to give.

(It says a little something about Mercer's own changing politics that he is annoyed about not being allowed to donate more. Most of us don't have even the base amount to spare!)

In addition, "third parties" are allowed to indirectly support a party or candidate during a campaign, for example by sponsoring their own television commercials. This kind of spending is limited to $3,000 per riding, to a maximum of $150,000 nationally. Either an individual or a group may act as a third party.

There are also limits on how much a party or individual candidate may spend on their election campaign, which are also tied directly to the number of eligible voters in that election. For parties, the limit translates to $0.70 per voter, counting only the voters in which that party is running candidates. The limit for individual candidate spending varies based on the number of voters in the riding, and is being re-examined for such wide-flung ridings as those of the Canadian North, where transportation costs are a major and necessary expense.

So, if you believe in the cause, whether or not you have the money to spare for a separate donation, you can still toss a little money your party's or candidate's way simply by voting.


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