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EDITORIAL: Deep pockets required

Liberal party president John Allan (left) and Liberal committee member John Samms detail the rules of the 2020 Liberal leadership race at the Capital Hotel on Monday. JOE GIBBONS/THE TELEGRAM
Liberal party president John Allan (left) and Liberal committee member John Samms detailed the rules of the 2020 Liberal leadership race at the Capital Hotel on Monday. — Telegram file photo

Reaction, so far, has been mixed.

On Monday, the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador announced the rules for the leadership campaign to replace Premier Dwight Ball.

And, as if often the case, money was a big part of the deal.

If you want to be a candidate for the job, you have to hand over $25,000 to the party.

And that’s not the only money you’ll have to find: there is no ceiling on what candidates can spend, so if you don’t have deep pockets, you’ll have a hard time being heard over those who do.

Some commenters have suggested that, since the new premier will have to make big budget decisions, experience with money is necessary. Others point out that, since political parties run on the donations they can wring out of companies and supporters, a prospective leader should be someone who has no trouble coming up with cash.

There is no ceiling on what candidates can spend, so if you don’t have deep pockets, you’ll have a hard time being heard over those who do.

It’s not only the provincial Liberals: the federal Conservatives, also seeking a new leader right now, require $300,000 in cash — $200,000 of it as a payment to the party and $100,000 as a bond to prevent misbehaviour. Once again, that’s before the campaign spending actually starts. The leadership rules were actually designed to showcase candidates’ ability to quickly raise money through donations.

And the importance of money trickles down even to individual candidates. Liberal MP Scott Simms was, at one point before the last election, unable to get the party to confirm him as their candidate.

The problem?

He didn’t meet the party’s requirement that he have $50,000 in a campaign bank account to backstop campaign costs.

Money has been important in Canadian politics for ages — since 1867, Canadian senators have had to have a net worth of $4,000 to even hold the position. (It goes without saying that $4,000 was worth a lot more in 1867.)

The $4,000 figure was put in place so that senators would not make decisions based on their own fiscal situations.

Strange, then, that it would be so acceptable to have candidates have to be beholden to donors.

One problem with the current system?

There are plenty of hard-working people with drive and good ideas who simply can’t afford to gamble large sums of money on the opportunity to seek political office. And that means there are plenty of people who won’t get the change to take part, while on the other side of the coin, people with plenty of cash and a dearth of ideas about real change that will help ordinary citizens can try to add “politician” to their resumé and never really feel the loss of the cash.

Pragmatists might say that, if you can’t afford to pay, you can’t afford to play.

Others might argue some jobs are too important to be bought.

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