Ontario Premier Doug Ford blamed the pandemic when he broke his election promise and increased per-vote subsidies for political parties. It was wrong then. Now that Ford has presented a path to reopen the economy, it’s definitely time for him to shut the door on political welfare.
When he was running for office during the 2018 provincial election, Ford rightly promised to scrap per-vote party subsidies.
“I do not believe the government should be taking money from hard working taxpayers and giving it to political parties,” said Ford.
Ford was voicing his objections to the political welfare regime the Wynne Liberals introduced in 2014.
Under the Liberal plan, political parties received an annual 55-cent payment for every vote they received in the most recent provincial election. Wynne’s Liberals cashed in on over $4 million from taxpayers between 2014 and 2018.
Ford promised things would be different.
“Everyone in the province is frustrated,” said Ford. “The party is over with taxpayers’ money.”
Yet in Ford’s first two years in office, his Progressive Conservative government failed to scrap the political welfare scheme.
Then, in February, after Ontarians had endured nearly a year of the pandemic and the economic hardship that accompanied it, Attorney General Doug Downey announced that, rather than keeping Ford’s promise by eliminating political welfare, the government would break the promise and expand the political subsidy.
Downey’s legislation increased the per-vote subsidy by another eight cents.
With Ford’s PCs having garnered over 2.3 million votes in the 2018 election, the enhanced subsidy means that the governing party is entitled to over $1.46 million between now and the next election.
Downey attempted to justify the Ford government’s about face by claiming that political parties needed help amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID came along, and we want to make sure that we have good, vigorous debate here in Ontario,” said Downey.
There’s 800,000 unemployed Ontarians laying awake worrying about their finances. How many taxpayers do you think are currently worried about politicians not having enough money to fund their political attack ads and lawn signs?
Downey also insinuated that “vigorous” debate could only occur in the province if taxpayers are forced to hand over millions of dollars to political parties.
But party fundraising data shows that Ontario’s political parties are doing just fine.
The PCs raised over $4.5 million in 2020. That’s just 10 per cent less than pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, the provincial Liberals tripled their fundraising last year. How many businesses wish their revenues only declined by 10 per cent? How many have achieved a 300 per cent increase?
If Ford’s PCs want to make sure Ontario has a “vigorous” pre-election political debate, $4.5 million will pay for more than enough campaign ads.
Further, political parties also benefit from extremely generous donor tax credits, even before they rake in their per-vote subsidies.
Does Ford truly believe political attacks ads are six times more valuable than the Red Cross?
On top of all of that, politicians get 20 per cent of their campaign expenses refunded by the government, meaning they’re paid for by you, the taxpayer.
Given the government used the pandemic to justify breaking its promise to scrap per-vote subsidies, it’s time for the province to unveil a new plank of Ontario’s reopening plan: scrapping political welfare.
With the election less than a year away, it’s time for Ford to take his first baby step towards getting off the gravy train and scrap the political welfare.
Jay Goldberg is the Interim Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation
Photo Credit: The Canadian Press