Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Financing the political process

Up here in Quebec there's been all kind of disclosure at a specially created commission (Commission Charboneau) on the goings on in the province as to how infrastructure projects were used to funnel money to political parties.

Hearing the outcry in the rest of the country you would thing that Quebec is the only place (like really!) where these kind of games takes place -- you can bet serious money that this is not the case.  The problem here is that the small number of contractors available (Quebec is a small place), made it easy to create a merry-go-round of briberies that were channelled to certain political parties.

So far the dirt has been at the municipal level -- projects are numerous and generally small, elected officials have few ressources, they are not that smart and the job is essentially about garbage collection and cleaning the streets -- not very exiting.   The process is likely to move to the "provincial" level soon, although the game there is more complicated, not because there are many more bidders, but because of the open competition process -- look at the mess that is the Montreal subway system...(1).  Still it "seems" that it it possible to game the system there too -- if what has been reveled is true it appears that even PPP projets saw briberies being paid.

In a fit of madness the government of Quebec decided to reduce contribution to $100 per person per year -- the maximum before hand was $3,000 -- the amusing thing here is that many people believe that a $3,000 contribution is enough to sway a government in giving multi million dollar contract -- now i'm exaggerating  there was lots of bundeling (but then both parties were beneficiary), people would rent their name, make the personal donation and then claim this as a business expense (oh the hypocrisy of it all), 

Now the law of unintended consequence comes into action; first old style fund raising is over, no more cocktails to thank party donnors, instead the internet will be used to get $10 dollar donation over button issues -- don't like the new arena in Quebec city, give $10 to your favorite politician.  The age of internet payment allows a greater separation between the voter and their representative, since your financial contribution to a politician is now insignificant .. in the same stroke website will be built (they exist in other countries) to see how your politician supported your views in the past.

This will fundamentally change the political process in the province (maybe for the better), but my guess is that you will have the equivalent of the Daily Kos or Drudge Report to create the "crisis" situation to stimulate fund raising.

That means more attack adds, mostly via the internet -- very very cheap process rather than television which is being abandoned as a source of information anyway.  Our politicians have not clued onto the internet (just check out the web site of any Canadian political parties -- it looks like a web site from 1999) full of bad video (what's wrong with Youtube guys) its not that programers are not good, its a question of budget allocation -- political parties are mostly run by old white guys (sorry Mme Marois) -- who "understand computers" but not the internet.  My prediction is that this $100 limit will create a monster!  because outrage will become the only voice of the land -- after all its the only way to separate you from your hard earned (and heavily taxed) dollars.

This aint over

(1) Several years ago, the Quebec minister of transport decided that it was legal for the province to select Bombardier to replace the aging rolling stock and systems that run Montreal subway system -- the same trains have been working hard since 1969.  Big surprise this turns out to be completely illegal, slowing the process down by years (the bids were for 2002, and the trains should have been running by 2010 -- today in 2013 they haven't even give the contract yet).


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