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Keep the Super PACs out of CanadaKeep the Super PACs out of Canada

Keep the Super PACs out of Canada

If there is one thing on which most Canadians can agree it is that we do not want to be like the United States. In an adolescent way that manages to mix extreme levels of narcissism and insecurity, we create volatile and embarrassing concoctions of Can-con television, totalitarian liquor regimes, and parliamentary bills in support of hockey in order to convince ourselves that, yes, we are in fact not Americans but Canadians so there.

Brian Dijkema
2 minute read
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Well, the one on the right was on the left
And the one in the middle was on the right
And the one on the left was in the middle
And the guy in the rear was a [...]

If there is one thing on which most Canadians can agree it is that we do not want to be like the United States.

You hear this from both the left and the right in a way that would make Johnny Cash proud. From Dief the Chief to Jean Chretien, our anti-Americanism . . . sorry, our desire to maintain a unique Canadian identity—knows no political stripe.

In an adolescent way that manages to mix extreme levels of narcissism and insecurity, we create volatile and embarrassing concoctions of Can-con television, totalitarian liquor regimes, and parliamentary bills in support of hockey in order to convince ourselves that, yes, we are in fact not Americans but Canadians so there.

Yet, while I agree with Mordecai Richler that "there is only so much plonk I am prepared to drink for my country," there's a time when a good Canadian boy hops on the bandwagon and says—"Yankee go home."

In this case I'm referring to that great, and uniquely American, contribution to public life and discourse known as the Super PAC.

Super PACs, or Political Action Committees, are those great behemoths that spend hundreds of millions, sorry, hundreds of billions of dollars to get their candidate or their desired piece of pork into office or into law.

Here's a brief look at what the Yanks spent electing their king—sorry, their president. PACs for Barack Obama spent $167 million and those supporting Romney spent $102 million. Combined, American Super PACs spent 567 million dollars in 2012.

And, in recent years, these political "third-parties" have made their way into Canada. While federal spending rules remain tight, laws in other jurisdictions—Ontario in particular—have not yet addressed the entry of these political parasites into our elections. But they're coming. Or, I should say, their nasty little heads are already burrowing their way into our political skin. The 2007 provincial campaign saw $2.3 million dollars spent by third parties, in this case primarily from Ontario unions. In 2011, similar groups spent over $6 million.

It is time to take the tweezers to these ticks, for three reasons.

First, as Ray Pennings notes, "political parties have become marketing machines with the single-minded purpose of protecting and promoting the brand under which political activists will compete for election." Encouraging American-style PACs in Canadian public discourse will lead to a proliferation of the notion that campaigns could—or should—be won by those who spend the most at ad firms.

Second, it disenfranchises those who, because of principle or because they don't have the means, will not or cannot spend enough cash for their cause.

And finally, it's bad for the economy. While we're a long way from the half billion dollars spent in the U.S., such spending ultimately does not create wealth, but destroys it.

Which is not to say that organizations and institutions must, like Johnny Cash suggests, keep their political convictions to themselves. Institutions have an interest in the outcome of an election just as much as any individual. Perhaps it's simply time to put a cap on all political spending, partisan or otherwise, lest we end up with

the one on the right was on the bottom
And the one in the middle was on the top
And the one on the left got a broken arm
And the guy in the rear, said, "Oh dear."

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