Erin O’Toole, when will you keep your promise to end the Election Expenses Clawback?
I ask this not because I believe Erin O’Toole is not on the right track (he is), but because Conservative EDAs deserve to know when they can expect reimbursement for the tens of thousands of dollars the Conservative Party withheld from their Elections Canada rebate after the 2019 federal election.
Since winning the Conservative Party leadership contest on August 23rd, Erin O’Toole’s priorities were hiring staff for the Office of the Official Opposition, appointing his Shadow Cabinet and setting up his national caucus based on his priorities.
This is no small feat.
It also means Mr. O’Toole clearly understood what he needed to do and the order in which he needed to do it.
Add a COVID-19 diagnosis for him and his wife and an already complex job becomes exponentially more difficult.
Personal and professional difficulties notwithstanding, Erin O’Toole must keep one of his key leadership campaign promises. From Erin O’Toole’s leadership platform document, Our Country, page 46:
It was a mistake for the party to move away from this practice and an even bigger mistake to keep a constitutional amendment banning it from reaching the floor at the 2018 convention.
Erin has called on the party to switch back immediately and return any money clawed back from 2019 election rebates. If they don’t, he will when he becomes leader.
He must end the Conservative Party’s election expenses clawback, and he must do so now.
The benefit of keeping this promise is obvious for the Party’s new leader.
Any Electoral District Association (EDA) that didn’t support O’Toole’s leadership bid will probably change their tune the moment a cheque for $30,000 lands in their mailbox.
What is the Election Expenses Clawback?
Elections Canada issues rebates to all candidates for all political parties in every Electoral District based on the following criteria:
A candidate who is elected or receives at least 10 percent of the valid votes cast in their electoral district and who complies with the financial reporting provisions of the Canada Elections Act is eligible to a reimbursement of:
- 60 percent of their paid election expenses
Prior to Election 2019, the Conservative Party forced every candidate to sign an agreement allowing the Party to claw back half of the Electoral District’s rebate from Elections Canada.
Don’t sign the agreement, you couldn’t run for the Conservative Party. That’s not an agreement, that’s extortion.
But because of this signed agreement by all 338 candidates in the 2019 campaign, Elections Canada sent the rebates directly to the Conservative Party, who then gave the EDA 50% of it.
This is the Election Expenses Clawback.
How Does This Work?
When a federal election is called, every Electoral District is given a specific campaign spending limit from Elections Canada.
This limit is based on a number of factors, including the size of the riding and the length of the campaign.
If it’s longer than the statutory minimum of 36 days, the limit is higher. If the riding is the size of a small middle-eastern nation (the BC riding of Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, for example), the limit is higher than a geographically small urban riding like Toronto Centre.
For the sake of easy figuring, let’s say your local Conservative Electoral District Association’s spending limit is $100,000. Let’s say they spent every penny of it during the last election campaign.
Elections Canada will rebate your EDA 60% of those expenses, or $60,000.
Elections Canada does this for all 338 federal Electoral Districts in the country.
When the Conservative Party takes half of that rebate from every EDA, it’s easy to see how this adds up to big money.
($60,000 / 2) = $30,000 x 338 Electoral Districts = $10,140,000
This is a massive cash grab from EDAs, all of which worked hard to raise the money required to finance their candidate’s campaign.
To understand why the Conservative Party keeps half the money owed to its EDAs – regardless of whether the individual candidate won the election or not – requires a trip into the history of election campaign financing in Canada.
Election Campaign Financing Primer
On June 19, 2003, the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien amended the Canada Elections Act to subsidize political parties based on the number of votes they received in the last federal election.
This was called the per-vote subsidy for political parties, and it came into effect on January 1, 2004.
On that day, every vote earned by a political party in the previous federal election earned a per-vote subsidy of $1.75 each, and was eventually raised to $2.07.
Think of this as corporate welfare specifically designed for political parties.
While all parties loved the subsidy, those who didn’t have broad support among voters loved it most. It meant the hardest part of any political party’s mission – fundraising – was no longer necessary.
At the very least, fundraising no longer carried the same sense of urgency as it did prior to the subsidy.
Stephen Harper Ends the Gravy Train
If a political party’s ideas are so unpopular they cannot convince ordinary Canadians to part with their hard-earned after-tax dollars, there is no reason why taxpayers should be forced to fund those ideas.
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed.
Harper described the per-vote subsidy as “this enormous cheque that keeps piling into political parties every month, whether they’ve raised any money or not”.
Harper was elected to a majority government in 2011, in part, based on his campaign promise to repeal this bastardized version of corporate welfare. He kept his campaign promise and the per-vote subsidy was systematically reduced each year until 2015, when it was removed entirely.
Whenever money is doled out to corporate entities without any requirement to earn it, complacency sets in.
For 11 long years, political parties sucked on the public teat, content to cash those taxpayer-funded cheques every month – the Conservative Party included.
When the gravy train ended in 2015, every party suffered financially. They became so dependent upon those massive monthly cheques they stopped bothering to sell their ideas in the public square. They stopped focusing on fundraising.
The Conservative Party was no exception.
In an August 13, 2018 Hill Times article, Cory Hann is quoted saying “Our party took a $20-million hit to our budget” when the per-vote subsidy ended.
Like every other party, the Conservatives became dependent upon government handouts.
When those handouts ended, they demanded their Electoral District Associations to make up the shortfall they brought upon themselves through their own taxpayer-funded complacency.
The Conservative Party’s Election Expenses Clawback
The Conservative Party’s rationale for stealing this money from its EDAs was simple.
The Liberals and NDP already to it.
Doing the wrong thing simply because someone else did it first is a bad way to operate a business.
While many saw the clawback decision as inevitable, the Carleton EDA – home of Pierre Poilievre – fought back against the decision. They even created a page on the EDA’s website (no longer available) explaining their position.
“Regrettably, this decision to ‘clawback’ the local Elections Canada rebate was taken without reaching out to local electoral district associations, their fundraisers, members or donors. The reasons given by [Conservative Party] president, Scott Lamb, to explain the decision just don’t hold water.”
And those reasons still don’t hold water today.
This fact is probably what led to every leadership candidate promising they would eliminate the clawback.
So, Mr. O’Toole, when can Canada’s 338 Conservative Electoral District Associations expect those election expense reimbursement cheques to arrive?