Political Donations and Democratic Equality in Canada

Political Donations and Democratic Equality in Canada

Equality is a key tenet of democracy. With respect to the financing of federal political parties, one issue relevant to equality concerns has received surprisingly little attention: the phasing out of political parties’ annual per-vote subsidy, set to occur in 2015. Donations from individuals will henceforth become the parties’ primary source of funding; but not all Canadians donate equally. By examining a sample of disclosed donors from Elections Canada databases, combined with census data on neighbourhood income levels, this study establishes that donors are substantially more likely to come from wealthier sections of Canadian society. Despite a relatively low cap on donations – individuals can currently give no more than $1,200 annually – wealthier Canadians carry disproportionate weight in the total aggregate of donation dollars. The study concludes by briefly comparing federal rules to regulations at the provincial level and suggesting methods of mitigating inequalities in the political finance system.

The very essence of democracy is equality.1 Fairness in politics is undeniably something Canadians desire. Since the 2011 federal election, these principles have been front and centre, as a number of issues relating to the conduct of elections have been making headlines and have been actively debated by Canadians concerned about the quality of democracy in this country.