The political welfare straw man

If political parties want to raise cash, they should do so by winning over taxpayers, not raiding their wallets. Pictured: Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Photo Credit: Doug Ford/X. 

For Ontario’s political parties, the jig may finally be up.

Premier Doug Ford is just six months away from scrapping Ontario’s political welfare system. Political welfare has been a golden goose for the province’s political bigwigs and a nightmare for everyday taxpayers. 

The program will soon be relegated to the ash heap of history, so long as Ford doesn’t go wobbly.

How did we get here? 

Nearly a decade ago, former premier Kathleen Wynne banned corporate and union donations to political parties in Ontario. But at the same time, she created a taxpayer-funded political welfare scheme. As a result, political parties get a set amount of money from taxpayers four times a year for every vote they received in the previous election – no strings attached. 

In trying to sell this political welfare cash cow to Ontario taxpayers, Wynne presented the situation as a trade-off: to ban corporate and union donations to political parties, the so-called per-vote subsidy was needed.

“Democracy is not free,” argued one of Wynne’s ministers when the Liberals introduced the program. 

Before Ford got to Queen’s Park, he knew all of that was hogwash. 

“I do not believe the government should be taking money from hard-working taxpayers and giving it to political parties,” said Ford in 2018. 

Political parties, Ford argued, should survive by raising money from everyday taxpayers. There was no need for corporate and union donations or taxpayer handouts. 

Sadly, Ford lost his way. 

After taking office, Ford started decreasing political welfare payments. But once the pandemic hit, Ford cranked the payments up to all-time highs, blaming the pandemic for making it more difficult for political parties to fundraise.

Of course, Ford didn’t let logic or facts get in the way. The truth is Ontario’s political parties raised millions during the pandemic and didn’t need taxpayer handouts. 

But now it appears Ford is finally seeing the light: Wynne’s political welfare regime is set to expire at the end of 2024. 

Let there be no mistake: there is no valid argument in favour of keeping this taxpayer atrocity. 

Ontario’s political parties will not go broke when the taxpayer taps turn off next year. In fact, they’re currently swimming in buckets of cash.

The province’s four major political parties – the Progressive Conservatives, Liberals, NDP and Greens – raised more than $14 million collectively in 2023, and currently have the same amount of money in the bank. 

The PCs, Liberals and NDP all have at least $2.3 million in their bank accounts. Even the Green Party, which holds just one seat at Queen’s Park, is sitting on more than $500,000 in cash.

Clearly, Ontario’s political parties won’t go broke if they get off the taxpayer dole. 

Even if Ontario’s political parties weren’t sitting on a massive war chest, the reality is they would adapt quickly to a new system reliant on small-dollar donations. 

Former prime minister Stephen Harper ended the federal version of Wynne’s political welfare scheme over a decade ago. And corporate and union donations have been banned federally for two decades. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn’t so much as tweaked those changes.

Since Harper put an end to federal political welfare, Canada’s political parties have flourished. 

They’ve all gotten better at appealing to everyday Canadians to make small-dollar donations and they’re raised more money since the per-vote subsidy was scrapped than they did before. 

That’s exactly what will happen when Ford kiboshes Ontario’s version of the per-vote subsidy at the end of the year. And that’s how it should be. 

If political parties want to raise cash, they should do so by winning over taxpayers, not raiding their wallets. 

The deadline is looming, but the fight here in Ontario is far from over.

Ford extended the life of the political welfare regime before and he could do it again.

That means taxpayers must stay vigilant. 

If Ford sticks to his word, Ontario taxpayers will have one less monkey on their backs come 2025. 

Let’s make sure that comes to pass. 

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