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Letter: Time to take big money out of politics

Money
"Perhaps the easiest way to restore voter confidence in the system is to either ban, or greatly reduce the amount that can be donated to candidates and political parties by individuals, corporations or trade unions," MHA Paul Lane writes.

One of the big problems with our political system is money. Political finance is a free-for-all in this province, and it is a big reason why so many voters are cynical and disengaged. When they see big political donors getting lucrative government contracts and/or financing, it reinforces the idea (real or perceived) that politicians look out for donors first and voters second.

Candidates themselves are limited to expense spending of no more than $3.125 times the number of registered electors in their district, but there are currently no limits on how much an individual, trade union, or corporation can donate to political campaigns, or on how much can be transferred to a candidate by a provincial or federal party.

Whether real or perceived, there is public perception of conflict or undue influence that is directly related to our political financing rules. Perhaps the easiest way to restore voter confidence in the system is to either ban, or greatly reduce the amount that can be donated to candidates and political parties by individuals, corporations or trade unions. By leveling the playing field, voters can have faith that no individual, corporation or union would have undue influence based on the amount of money they have donated.

It is also worth looking at the amount candidates spend during an election campaign. Just for reference, Liberals and Progressive Conservative candidates spent over a combined $1.8 million during the 2015 election, for an average of nearly $24,000 per candidate. By comparison, candidates in the recent Mount Pearl municipal election likely spent on average somewhere in the neighbourhood of $5,000 on their campaigns. Keep in mind that Mount Pearl makes up two provincial election districts, so why do provincial elections need to cost so much?

We should consider reducing the amount of spending on provincial election campaigns (whether it be a general election or byelection) and attempt to bring the amounts more in line with municipal campaign spending.  

We should further place tighter restrictions on spending in party leadership races. 

One example of how we can reduce spending is election signs. Do we really need to engage in “sign wars” during each election? Would it not be a better idea to create designated signage areas where each candidate can place a sign? Brochures and other print media are also a problem. Often candidates produce several different advertising brochures and/or booklets, trying to outdo each other. Perhaps the amount of print media used should also be reduced. After all, shouldn’t we be electing people based on their ideas and experience as opposed to who has the glossiest brochure? The same goes for the amount spent on radio and newspaper ads.

Party campaign spending should also be greatly reduced. In addition to the millions spent by the candidates, the parties spent another $1.4 million combined during the 2015 election campaign. Do we really need to be spending so much on attack ads and fancy tour buses? There are a number of televised debates, and with the rise of social media people have many options to learn about the parties and their platforms.

If we want to be serious about democratic reform in this province, political finance reform has to be at the top of the list. A cynical, disengaged electorate is not good for anyone, and we need to restore the people’s faith that the system is there to work for them and not the individuals, corporations or unions that are able to donate the most money.

Paul Lane, MHA
Mount Pearl-Southlands 

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