Voting with your Ballot… and your Wallet
Every four years (normally), we go to the ballot box to vote for our local representative in an election. Within a first-past-the-post democratic system, this vote is the main avenue through which citizens help change policy. If the previous government and your previous representative didn’t champion the policies dear to your heart, you have the opportunity to vote for someone better.
But last month, British Columbia made a small but important change to our democratic system. Not only does your ballot help choose your next representative, but it will now also directly provide money to political parties. This opens up new opportunities for Christians to make a difference in politics.
The Role of Money in Politics
A few years ago, the new BC NDP minority government (with support from the BC Greens) overhauled the campaign financing rules in British Columbia. The thrust of these changes was to cap the amount of money that individuals and companies could donate to political parties so that large unions and corporations would have less influence over the political process. Instead, parties would be more reliant on grassroots fundraising. Since the political parties at the time didn’t know if a bunch of small, new donations from average citizens would make up for the big donations lost from unions and corporations, the government established a limited-time per-vote subsidy. Under this policy, each political party would get $1.75 per year from the government for every vote received in the provincial election. This transitional subsidy was set to expire in 2022.
But now, the BC NDP government, with the help of both the BC Liberals and the BC Greens, has made this public subsidy permanent. This means that the BC NDP will receive $1.6 million of government money, the BC Liberals $1.1 million, and the BC Greens $500,000 per year based on the number of votes they received in the 2020 election.
Now, there are many ideological arguments to be made in support or opposition to public subsidies for political parties, but there is a practical opportunity that arises from this policy.
Normally, citizens vote for a political party based on a number of factors: the quality of the party leader, the policy stances of the party, the quality of the local candidate, or the electability of each candidate in their riding. In other words, the voting calculation is usually about getting people into office (or keeping others out of office). Many citizens vote (or think about voting) for a less than satisfactory party rather than the party that they like the most because they are worried about “splitting the vote.” If they cast a vote for their favourite candidate but that candidate doesn’t win, many people think that was a “wasted” ballot.
This new party financing rule changes that calculation a bit. Now, even if the candidate that you vote for doesn’t win but receives at least 5% of the vote in their riding or their party receives at least 2% of the total vote, their party will receive $1.75 this year, and next year, and the year after that, and the year after that because of your vote. In essence, each vote now has a $7 banknote attached to it – a $1.75 annual subsidy times the 4 years between most elections. Those $7 votes add up pretty quickly in a province with 3.1 million registered voters.
The taxpayer already subsidizes political parties in British Columbia in other ways. Political parties and political candidates get reimbursed from the provincial coffers for 50% of their expenses incurred during an election, as long as the party receives at least 5% of the votes cast province-wide or the candidate receives at least 10% of the votes in their riding.
Plus, individuals get a generous tax deduction for political donations. Individuals receive a 75% tax credit on contributions up to $100, a 50% tax credit for contributions between $100 and $550, and a 33.3% tax credit for contributions in excess of $550 back on their tax return. That works out to up to $500 back out of a contribution of up to $1,268.
All that money that political parties receive is spent on advancing the interests of that political party: paying the election expenses of candidates, paying the salaries of the party’s full-time employees, or advertising on specific issues.
Using Election Finance Rules to Advance Biblical Causes
Christians should use these election finance rules to their full advantage. If they garner enough support, political parties and candidates get $7 per vote and 50% of their campaign expenses reimbursed. Political donors also receive a generous tax credit for their political donations.
The three larger parties in British Columbia – the NDP, Liberals, and Greens – will likely put this money towards electing MLAs in general elections. But the smaller political movements – the Conservatives, the Christian Heritage Party, or Aaron Gunn’s new movement – might also make good use of this money in raising awareness of political issues.
Thanks to the per vote subsidy, the provincial Conservative party will gain about $63,000 per year and the Christian Heritage Party will also be eligible for some funds. Also, thanks to their individual performances, Rod Taylor of the CHP (11.5% of the popular vote) and Trevor Bolin (34.3%) and five other candidates for the Conservative party were all eligible to have 50% of their election expenses reimbursed.
Imagine some of those funds going towards political advertising explicitly in support of the pro-life, pro-family, or pro-freedom cause. Political parties exist to elect candidates to legislatures, but they also exist to advocate for particular policies.
So next time you think about voting for or donating to a political party in British Columbia, think about whether your vote and your money are being as effective as they can. Is your support of X party crucial to electing a Christian MLA? Or might your support promote Christian values better in party Y?
Something to think about.