Money vs Voice
In the last provincial election, political parties spent $2.3 million, most of it in taxpayer money. When so many are suffering economic hardship, is this money well spent?
It is shocking, but in a year when thousands of Nova Scotians lost their jobs, closed their businesses, or had to make desperate choices to stay afloat, most political parties in our province went asking citizens for donations to pay for ads and to pay their executives, all while collecting tens of thousands of dollars from taxpayers.
Our democracy was set up so that political parties could function even if they didn't have a large donor base, by providing a government cash subsidy based on the number of votes won. All parties that run candidates and earn votes are eligible for this money. It is a system designed to make it possible for a pluralism of political voices to be heard and to take away some of the monetary advantages that well-connected, establishment parties enjoy.
However, the system has an obvious flaw. If we look at the distribution of cash and the total amount of spending in the last provincial election, and measure it against votes we see a giant disproportion.
Neither our leadership, executive members, media team, or any official take any renumeration from party coffers. It would be interesting to ask how many of the other provincial political party leaders and executives work for free...
The Green Party of Nova Scotia is unique in our province. We are an all-volunteer political organization where neither our leadership, executive members, media team, or any official take any renumeration from party coffers. Like all political parties, a substantial part of our budget comes from taxpayers (please refer for page 10 of the report in the link), but it seems insulting to take that public support to pay ourselves. Please note that other parties receive hundreds of thousands of public dollars per year, while we less than $20,000.
Unlike the other three political parties, we have not asked Nova Scotians for donations once during 2020. Most Green Party of Nova Scotia executives, officials and leadership have full time jobs, families, and other commitments, and chose to invest time and talent to grow our movement because we consider participatory democracy a civic duty. It would be interesting to ask how many of the other provincial political party leaders and executives work for free.
All political parties depend on volunteers to do everything from knock on doors, hand out flyers, formulate policy, conduct detailed and at times laborious research, create creative works like websites and pamphlets, and of course stand for election. The Green Party of Nova Scotia is proud of our transparency and has made clear in all our volunteer ads that we are a partisan organization, that we have high standards, and that we are appealing to persons who find our political mission attractive.
We think Green voters and supporters should be won by the quality of our ideas, not the size of our media budget.
The Coming Political Ad Tsunami
The ongoing speculation about a provincial election this year means that advertising agencies are bing contracted and media budgets created. This is good and well, but as we have seen in the last US election where a record $14 billion was spent, political parties will flood the airwaves and social media channels with a deluge of ads and videos. In Nova Scotia donations will be down across the board, but monies carried-over from the past four years and ongoing taxpayer subsidies will ensure that the amount of money spent last election, $2.3 million, will be blown in a matter of four weeks.
Democracy means many voices can fairly compete for votes in a great marketplace of ideas. But is it really an open and fair market space when establishment parties can drown out alternatives by the weight of their budgets? With our current system of taxpayer subsidies, the strong get stronger while the smaller, less corporatized parties get fewer opportunities to be heard. In provincial politics, as with real life, the strongest have unnatural advantages.
Perhaps it is time to demand political subsidy reform, so that Nova Scotians can be sure that political ideas get evaluated on their merits, instead of their ad budget.