Funding Political Parties: Can a Fair System Be Devised?

Article excerpt

This article outlines Quebec's model for financing o/political parties. It looks at the procedure adopted to guarantee equitable financing, examines the controls put into place to ensure the enforcement of the Act and, finally looks at the respect of the principles inherent in this model.

From time immemorial, political parties have had to seek financing in order to conduct their political activities, to recruit personnel, to rent office space, to publish their programme and to cove r their election expenses. In Quebec, an old saying claims that it takes more than prayers to win all election. For years, there existed no legislative provisions relating to political financing or election expenses. The Election Act of 1875 established the first requirements concerning the election expenses of candidates, who from that time on were required to appoint an official agent to attend to their expenses. This obligation was abolished in 1932. Beginning in 1895, the returning officers were obliged to have published in the Official Gazette a statement of candidates' election expenses. This requirement remained in effect until 1926.

From 1932 to 1963, we reverted to the former situation where no legislation provided for election expenses, nor for party and candidate revenues. It goes without saying that this lack of legal supervision, especially with regard to financing, left an opening for considerable abuse. This marked an era of disguised campaign financing. During this period, significant amounts of money were regularly given to political parties or to candidates in exchange for all types of favours. Thus, it was not rare to find that the granting of government contracts or the obtention of certain positions depended on substantial sums of money being handed over to finance the party in power. This method of proceeding had an effect on the trust the electors had in the equity of the electoral system and in the probity of their elected representatives.

In 1963, the Assembly adopted a new Election Act to which a substantial section on election expenses was added. From then on, political parties and candidates were under the obligation to name an official agent responsible for handling election expenses. The expenses of parties and candidates were limited and it was established that the Government reimburse a portion of election expenses incurred by official agents representing candidates returned at the last election or those having obtained 20% of the votes in their electoral division.

In 1975, the first statute on political financing was adopted in Quebec. This statute ensures a form of public financing for the parties represented at the National Assembly by means of an annual allowance granted by the Government. However, this statute does not in any way make reference to other sources of political financing.

The year 1977 constituted a turning point in the rehabilitation of Quebec's electoral practices. At the instigation of Prime Minister Rene Levesque, who had made the commitment, the Assembly adopted a bill respecting the financing of political parties. The object of this bill was to put in place a system of financing by the people characterized by transparency. The bill, which was adopted unanimously by the five parties represented at the National Assembly following an extensive public debate, established a unique integrated system for controlling political financing and election expenses. Furthermore, by restricting political financing to the electors, the faith of the electorate in the equity of the electoral process was considerably increased.

Characteristics of the Quebec Model

The Quebec model is characterized first of all by significant support from the Government. The Government pays the authorized political parties an allowance to be used to reimburse the expenses incurred for their current administration, the propagation of their political programmes and the coordination of the political activities of their members. …