Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Is it ethical to join a political party?

How many memberships would you like to buy, sir?
On Sunday The Good Wife  episode was "Dark Money": how American politics is corrupted by shadowy billionaires who buy up political campaigns on the crudest motives. The rich old guy played by Ed Asner likes Alicia's legs, thinks the other guy acts too gay. ("Mr Grant!" you expect Juliana Margulies to exclaim).

Meanwhile in Ontario, the Conservative Party is holding a leadership "race." The media have been treating Christine Elliott, lawyer, political veteran, widow of Jim Flaherty -- someone they have actually met and seen in action -- as the dominant candidate. Then an obscure Ottawa MP of tea-partyish opinions announces -- after the sale of memberships has closed -- that he has 40,000 memberships committed to him. Elliott, after years of work, is thought to have 25,000 or so.

One anonymous Conservative observes, "In the past four PC leadership contests — in 1990, 2002, 2004 and 2009 — the winning candidate sold the most memberships."  Um, yes.  Another says  “It’s definitely an insurgency.”  

That's one word for it, I guess. We have elaborate statutory regulations on how much parties can spend on elections, who they can take money from, how much anyone can give, how much of a tax subsidy is involved, and so on.  But within the political parties themselves? The press has no information on who holds these memberships, or who paid for them. Dark money.

Membership in the Ontario Conservative Party is expected to rise from about 10,000 to about 70,000 during the leadership contest -- and to fall back again after the vote, of course. But journalists and columnists never draw the obvious conclusions: political party leader contests in Canada are vote-buying competitions. Vote buying is corrupt.

Can any Canadian believe it is ethical to join a political party?  Particularly during a leadership contest, but more generally, I'd say.

Meanwhile, the Reform Act, which tells MPs they have permission to control their leaders, passed last week.  It's a good thing, in that anything that tells MPs they actually have duties and responsibilities, and the authority to carry them out, is a good thing.  But it confers no new powers, and it will only have an impact if elected members take it as encouragement to start doing their jobs.

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