PACs pave the way for big money in Cana­dian pol­i­tics

With fixed elec­tion dates in play there is a clear run­way for third-party groups to skirt the rules

Cape Breton Post - - OP-ED -

A new player has ap­peared on the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape. Com­prised of Lib­eral and NDP back­bench vet­er­ans, En­gage Canada has in­vested un­known amounts in at­tack ads against the rul­ing Con­ser­va­tives.

In the United States, such groups are com­monly known as Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Com­mit­tees (PACs), and their mi­gra­tion to Canada has be­gun.

In the first Harry Pot­ter book, Ginny Weasley re­ceives ad­vice

from her fa­ther: “Never trust any­thing that can think for it­self, if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.” The same wis­dom ap­plies to pol­i­tics: Never trust a move­ment whose fun­ders won’t re­veal them­selves. In Canada, there are rules that have (mostly) kept big money out of Cana­dian pol­i­tics.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Democ­racy, the ma­jor­ity of es­tab­lished democ­ra­cies have no lim­its on what a sin­gle in­di­vid­ual can do­nate, most per­mit cor­po­ra­tions and unions to fund po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, and most ei­ther do not re­quire public re­port­ing of po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions, or have loop­holes that al­low stealth con­tri­bu­tions.

In this coun­try, no­body can do­nate more than $1,200 to a fed­eral can­di­date or party in a year, cor­po­ra­tions and unions are banned from con­tribut­ing, and par­ties must name any­one who gives them more than $20.

Here’s the prob­lem: the par­ti­san ac­tiv­i­ties of third par­ties such as En­gage Canada are com­pletely un­reg­u­lated be­tween elec­tions. On its own, that might be wise. But with fixed elec­tion dates in play – and the next one set for Oc­to­ber 19 – there is a clear run­way for third-party groups to skirt the rules un­til the elec­tion of­fi­cially be­gins.

Un­til then, they can col­lect money from whomever gives it to them, with no lim­its on what an in­di­vid­ual, cor­po­ra­tion or union can give, and no obli­ga­tion to name their donors.

They will spend it on advertising in com­pletely un­reg­u­lated ways, en­dors­ing and at­tack­ing par­ties and can­di­dates as they choose.

En­gage Canada is the most no­table group that has arisen on the left. HarperPAC ap­peared to fill a sim­i­lar void on the right, un­til the Prime Min­is­ter’s of­fice in­di­cated they weren’t com­fort­able with the name-as­so­ci­a­tion. A new con­ser­va­tive group will no doubt rise in its ashes.

Most Cana­di­ans won’t do­nate. So, who is the tar­get donor for PACs? The peo­ple who have ex­ceeded their an­nual con­tri­bu­tion limit to po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, and the cor­po­ra­tions and unions pro­hib­ited from mak­ing po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions in the first place.

PACs are the po­lit­i­cal port of con­ve­nience through which oth­er­wise reg­u­lated or illegal ac­tiv­i­ties, be­come un­reg­u­lated and le­gal. Un­til the rules for groups like these change, or fixed elec­tion dates are done away with, we should ex­pect them to have a grow­ing in­flu­ence in Cana­dian pol­i­tics. Mark Cof­fin is the pres­i­dent of the Springtide Col­lec­tive, an or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to im­prov­ing po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment, and imag­in­ing ways of do­ing pol­i­tics dif­fer­ently @MarkCof­fin on Twit­ter. Springtide in­vites Nova Sco­tians to share their views on how we can Make

Democ­racy Bet­ter at MakeDemoc­ra­cyBet­ter.ca

Mark Cof­fin

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