Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

Reforming political financing was not one of the 5 major priorities identified by the CAQ last week.

< p>Analysis | Abolition of popular financing: a cure worse than the disease?

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Prime Minister François Legault announced Thursday that the CAQ will renounce receiving private donations and asks other parties to do the same. (Archive photo)

  • Hugo Lavallée (View profile)Hugo Lavallée

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François Legault wanted to mark a big blow yesterday by announcing that his political party was renouncing popular financing. The Prime Minister maintains that the CAQ has nothing to reproach itself for, but that the doubts fueled by the opposition are forcing its hand.

The decision first has a strategic aim: the other parties have been pestering the CAQ all week over its financing methods and François Legault is now paying them back. Faced with a government that plays the virtue card, the latter will have to justify why they do not consider it problematic to continue to receive private contributions.

The gesture aims above all to prevent new attacks. If other cases of deputies having solicited mayors emerge, it will be easy to retort that things have changed, that the leader has taken matters into his own hands.

Everyone also noticed that the CAQ had an easy time giving up popular funding. Having received the most votes in the last election, the party is the one which receives the most public money. The CAQ received $4.7 million from the state last year, while the other major parties had to make do with less than $2 million each.

Reforming electoral financing was certainly not one of the priorities stated last week by the Prime Minister, but François Legault said it himself: nothing is more dear to him than his integrity and that of his party. This is well worth the accusations of improvisation, vociferated by the opposition parties, as soon as the Prime Minister's announcement is completed.

Beyond immediate political considerations, the question remains, however, of knowing whether abolishing popular (or private, to use François Legault's expression) financing would be beneficial for democracy.

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In a series of thoughts that he shared with certain journalists, the Chief Electoral Officer highlights some of the reasons why abolishing all private financing is not necessarily a good idea.

The institution recalls that political contributions have already been assimilated by the courts to a form of freedom of expression. And if this freedom, like others, must sometimes be restricted – for example by imposing a cap on the contributions that can be made – it would be risky to take it away from voters completely. After all, democracy is not reduced to the simple action of voting every four years.

Added to this are the risks of disconnection between electorate and political parties. In theory, the need to collect donations forces parties to adopt policies that are in line with citizens' concerns.

This is without taking into account the difficulties that emerging parties and independent candidates would have to face, to whom it would be very difficult to allocate public funds. In fact, relying exclusively on state financing would amount to giving the outgoing party a systematic advantage when entering the electoral fight. However, elections are not necessarily aimed at returning the same party to power.

As explained yesterday by the professor of political science at Laval University, Marc André Bodet, on the show It's looking at us, research has shown that the elimination of popular funding has perverse effects. This uproots political parties in their communities and tends to create cartel parties, an environment where existing actors maintain and dominate, and where new voices and transformations to society are not represented in the party system. .

A recent example illustrates the benefits of popular financing. Before the 2022 elections, the Conservative Party of Quebec received very little funding from the state. Thanks to the support of its numerous donors, the latter still managed to lead an electoral campaign worthy of the name during the last election and to give a voice to hundreds of thousands of voters who did not recognize themselves in the other parties. policies. And even if the party did not elect any deputies because of the voting method, its very presence forced the other parties to adjust their own proposals.

The capacity that individuals have to make donations also makes it possible to measure the support that certain parties and certain ideas enjoy within the population, giving a different perspective from that offered by polls. The Parti Québécois, for example, has been very successful in its fundraising campaigns in recent years, despite sometimes poor voting intentions.

In short, the remedy could be worse than the disease if, to protect elected officials against any attempt at influence, we eliminated popular financing. Seeing the oppositions react, it seems very unlikely that the law will be modified in the direction indicated by the CAQ. This does not mean, however, that there is no reason to tighten the rules in order to better regulate the participation of elected officials in fundraising activities.

By inviting other political parties to imitate it, the government has at least achieved one of its objectives: to focus the debate no longer on the CAQ's financing methods, but of course popular financing itself. Perhaps that was, ultimately, his only real objective.

  • Hugo Lavallée (View profile)Hugo LavalléeFollow

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