I'm always amused at those do-gooders who advocate getting rid of bottled water in the misguided belief that people will change their habits and run for the water fountain. The sad truth is that any ban on water bottles will have the unintended consequence of sending most people over to bottled soft drinks and juices, infinitely worse for the diet and no better for the environment.
You can't legislate good sense or righteous behavior and sometimes when we try we to, we suffer the slings and arrows of unintended consequences.
Such is the case of Quebec's beefed up rules concerning political contributions, a good idea in theory, but one that only hurts our democracy in practice.
First things first;
There are three major ways to finance political parties;
- Unlimited donations by any individual or corporation, as is practiced in the United States.
- Public financing of political parties on a per vote basis.
- Limited donations by individuals or companies with caps and restrictions.
This whole blog piece is based on the proposition that there is no 'perfect' system for regulating political financing and no matter which system we choose, it will be anything but perfect.
Of course, we in Canada and Quebec in particular would never accept the free-for-all system of campaign financing as is practiced in the USA, where anything goes. Barak Obama spent almost a billion dollars on his presidential campaign, a frightening scenario for Canadians who would never accept a situation where companies regulated by federal statute could donate millions to the candidate or political party that best represented its interests.
In the American presidential and senatorial campaigns, the unbridled need for money makes candidates vulnerable to those that control the purse strings and offers large donors an unprecedented advantage to influence elected officials.
As for public financing of political parties using a per vote subsidy, as we practiced in federal politics until Mr. Harper repealed it recently, the system favors the also-rans, those parties that get votes, but few seats in Parliament.
In the end, it would encourage minority governments, something that really doesn't serve the country well.
I know many people like the idea of a minority government, but ultimately it can lead to too much power given to those small parties that control the balance of power, as in the case of the Bloc Quebecois for the twenty years prior to the last election.
In it's worst manifestation, it can cripple a country like in the case of Italy, which hasn't enjoyed a stable government in my lifetime, or worse still, the example of Israel, where the 10% share of Parliamentary seats owned by the ultra-religious, means that the 90% of Israelis, (both Jewish and Muslim) who don't share their religious views, are subject to parliamentary blackmail which forces the country to adopt ultra-religious measures.
And so it leads us to the third system, the one adopted by Quebec where the public may donate to political parties under a rigid and controlled set of rules.
It sounds like the best of a bad lot and it probably is, except for the fact that the rules adopted by Quebec are so draconian that it begs politicians and donors to cheat.
And trust me.....cheat they do!
The campaign finance laws in Quebec reminds me of those well-intentioned laws pertaining to the sale of cigarettes, which put consumers through so many hoops in their quest to buy tobacco products, that it is easier to buy contraband.
First the government raised the prices sky high and restricted where cigarettes and to whom it could be sold to.
Cigarette machines were banned, even in bars and clubs, where no under eighteen year-olds were allowed to be on site.
Then depanneurs were forced to build expensive cases that hid cigarettes from view, another expensive and useless exercise in futility.
All of the above measures have had the unintended effect to drive Quebecers to buy contraband tobacco from Indians, at a much reduced price and bother.
In 2007, it is estimated that 44% of cigarettes sold in Quebec were contraband. A newspaper investigation by the Journal de Montreal indicated that over 20% of the cigarette butts found directly outside the National Assembly in Quebec were contraband. Oh, the hypocrisy!
And so it seems that you cannot control human nature through legislation and at this point, any more restrictions placed on consumers in relation to buying cigarettes, will drive the 44% number even higher!
In certain situations, where citizens have simple options, it's important to understand that the more restrictive the rules, the more law-breaking it encourages.
This is the lesson the government should have minded in making it harder and harder to donate money to politicians legally.
|DGE Jacques Drouin, misguided sap.|
Both these provisions will have the most extraordinary unintended consequences and will increase fraud and those famous stories of 'brown envelopes'
Now readers, a little maturity.
On this subject, I think I have a little more experience as to what goes on, than the DGE himself, Jacques Drouin.
For many years and as many of you might have guessed from reading this blog, I was a volunteer fundraiser and was privy to a lot of what happened on the inside of a political fundraising machine.
I'm also going to choose my words carefully now.
I never did anything illegal, but that doesn't mean I didn't see things.
As a junior bagman in those days, I tagged along to meetings and dinners, some in those famous Montreal restaurants you read about in the newspapers.
It was however the first time I ever saw or became familiar with the term 'Pinkie.' (a thousand dollar bill.)
Readers should understand, that contrary to what the press leads you to believe, the envelopes were never brown or particularly big, you can actually stuff $50,000 in an everyday regular envelope, using pinkies.
I've seen many envelopes passed but never that famous 'brown' one!
By the way, I fully understand why the government in its wisdom removed pinkies from circulation. (later on they were red.)
By the way, the reverse side of the old $1,000 bill featured a picturesque covered bridge from, you guessed it, Quebec!
Back then, lobbyists and fundraisers like Karlheinz Schreiber were given a free rein. They had unfettered and free access to Parliament Hill.
I'm not lying when I say that a lobbyist could drive up to the front door of Parliament Hill, park his car at the curb and tell the guard that he was going to see so and so. Things were a lot different before 9/11.
The access surprised me. When I asked a colleague if he found it strange that a man like Schreiber could waltz into a certain cabinet minister's office as if it was his own, unabashedly offering secretaries Hermes scarves and expensive French perfume, he reminded me of the old adage-
Money talks and bullshit walks!
In those days (less than twenty years ago) things were less structured and believe it or not, giving wads of cash to a politician wasn't necessarily illegal.
Things have changed, the rules have been tightened up, but in the end, nothing is different.
When I started my 'fundraising' career, I was reminded of this phrase over and over again.
"Cash has no provenance."
In other words, get the donation in cash if you can!
So trust me......the money still flows and as long as cash exists, somebody will be handing it over to politicians.
What the government bureaucrats don't understand is that campaign finance laws can only be applied to traceable transactions, they are completely useless when cash is the currency of influence.
As the summer recess of the Charbonneau construction probe arrived, one of the last bombshells was delivered by my friend Jacques Duchesneau who told the disbelieving commission, that 70% of the money given to political parties was done so illegally.
Speaking mainly off-the-cuff but partly from prepared notes, Duchesneau told co-commissioners France Charbonneau and Renaud Lachance on Tuesday that a full 70 per cent of political donations in Quebec are being made illegally, without the knowledge of Elections Quebec. LINK
Jacques Drouin, the Quebec Directer of Elections, was stunned by the allegation and like a cuckolded husband, the fool seemed to be the last to know!
What did he expect?
The consequence of the new public disclosure rule of donors led to the publishing of the names of those who contributed to the Quebec Liberals by the nationalist RRQ, who used the opportunity to publicly harass the donors by way of intimidating letters sent in the guise of friendly advice.
It was without a doubt, a case of political intimidation extrodinaire! Read the story
The DGE remained stupidly mute in the wake of such an egregious abuse, hiding his head in the ground like the proverbial ostrich. For shame!
The law was clearly proven to cause more harm than good.
So readers, if you were a Liberal donor, could you see yourself giving money again?
How much easier and less bothersome to pass a brown envelope and to Hell with the tax deduction!
In Quebec, democracy is diminished by over-regulation and the misguided idea that transparency always serves democracy.
If we are to accept that everyone who makes a donation to a political party should be outed, we should accept that everybody's vote should become public and that our tax return be the subject of open scrutiny.
The other side of transparency is privacy and the election law has destroyed the political finance system by creating a climate of fear for those who donate.
Limiting contributions to such a pittance ($1,000) and publicly naming those who donate will only lead to more under the table contributions.
Quebecers are the champion cheapskates in Canada when it comes to donation, so adding another barrier is going to drive donations down even further.
As it stands, by my calculations, few individual candidates can run a successful campaign based on what the rules provide.
So where else is a politician going to get the funds he needs to run a decent campaign?
The restrictive rules guarantee dishonesty and demonstrate once again that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
Mr. Drouin is enforcing rules that will forever perpetuate brown bag financing and like cigarettes, putting up more barriers just sends people over to the illegal side.
Like the fools in the government who run the anti-tabacco campaign, he should learn that more is less and perhaps he and the other public servants and legislators should be required to take an oath similar to doctors....
First do no harm!