Under the Maple Leaf: Canadian politics

By MARK BLANCHARD  |  Jan. 31, 2003 at 1:13 AM
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Could it be political utopia?

Just imagine a nation where big business, powerful unions and associations are all banned from making political contributions.

Yes, banned.

Who would foot the bill, you ask?

How would candidates pay for their posters, spin-doctors and private planes?

Where would party leadership candidates look for "soft money" to fund their backroom back-stabbing campaigns?

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien wants the government to foot the bill.

Or, I should say, taxpayers.

He's introduced new legislation that would prohibit corporations, unions and the like from contributing to political parties, while capping their donations to individual politicians or their "riding" (district) associations at just $1,000.

Individual Canadians, on the other hand, would be able to make up to $10,000 in total donations to a political party, its riding associations or an individual politician.

The move would radically change the way political parties bankroll their candidates and their election campaigns.

Instead of depending on so-called bagmen to collect donations, the parties would get government checks to cover most of their costs.

In fact, they would get a government subsidy every year. Just how much would depend on the support each party had in the past election.

Price: estimated at least $110 million a year.

But advocates think a democracy relatively untainted by corporate donations is priceless.

The prime minister's plan goes well beyond the tax credits Ottawa currently offers those who donate to political causes.

It's already being applauded by editorial writers as a way to curb Canadians' cynicism for the political process.

But it's also being dissed by long-time politicians -- including many from within Chretien's own Liberal caucus.

Most of the dissenters are just upset at the prime minister pushing through an agenda he hopes will help him leave office next year with a favorable legacy.

While Chretien breaks new Liberal ground, a gay candidate hopes to do likewise as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.

Nova Scotia Member of Parliament Scott Brison launched his bid for the job this week, frankly admitting he's homosexual.

But the revelation hasn't dominated headlines trumpeting the 34-year-old investment banker's candidacy.

In fact, outgoing leader and former Prime Minister Joe Clark thinks the party is ready for a gay leader.

Sexual orientation simply isn't an issue in this generation, he said.

Canada's socialists, meanwhile, are celebrating their new leader.

Toronto city councilor Jack Layton won the New Democratic Party's leadership vote on the first ballot this week.

He defeated five other candidates, including party stalwarts who've been federal MPs for years, with a slogan promising to bring "new energy" to the left-wing party.

The NDP has been down in the dumps lately, opinion polls suggest.

But the media-savvy Layton is garnering headlines for hammering the Liberal government on health care, homelessness and the environment.

Layton will likely lead the party for several months before he runs for a seat in the House of Commons.

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