- Speculation that a protracted leadership race could hurt the Liberal
party's chances of retiring its large debt were stamped out by Prime
Minister Jean Chrétien last week when he told his cabinet
ministers to place their leadership campaigns in check or join the
backbenches if they can't.
The party's debt emerged as an issue last week
after Mr. Chrétien (Saint Maurice, Que.) announced that he
was leaving as leader in 18 months, opening up the possibility of
a lengthy campaign during which some of the party's biggest fundraisers
would be collecting money for their war chests rather than contributing
to the party's depleted coffers.
"They [ministers] cannot organize a campaign
without permission," Mr. Chrétien told reporters when
asked if the leadership race was on. "I will give the appropriate
time that is necessary so that all the candidates will have an equal
As for Akaash Maharaj, chair of the policy development
of Liberal party of Canada who is also a candidate for the position
of the president of the party, he said the leadership campaign may
have a negative effect on the ability of the party to raise more
funds but added that this will be offset by the signing up of more
membership form fees for the convention.
Furthermore, he said that a certain percentage
of the funds that are raised by individual leadership contenders
goes to the party in exchange for the tax receipts.
"Historically, in exchange for providing
tax receipts to contributors of the leadership camps, the party
has recovered a percentage of those donations. As a result, fundraising
by the leadership camps pay some dividends to the Liberal party,"
said Mr. Maharaj in an interview with The Hill Times.
"Moreover, one would normally expect a
very substantial increase in the membership of the party in the
lead up to a leadership convention and that too would assist us
in raising funds by membership fees. There is no denying, however,
that the fundraising efforts of individual leadership candidates
may have an impact on the funds raised by the party but this will
be more than offset by the interest and excitement that the process
has generated or will generate."
Mr. Maharaj was critical of the party's financial
difficulties, given that it has been boasting that while in government
it has managed to eliminate the national deficit.
"It is the most stunning rebuke that the
party has not been able to bring to bear the same financial discipline
in our own internal affairs."
Moreover, Mr. Maharaj said that some of the
people use the leadership campaign as an excuse for the financial
disarray that the party is in but he said that the unofficial leadership
campaign started only a couple of years ago, while the party is
in government for nearly a decade.
"There will be some people who will blame
the leadership race for our financial woes but the fact is we are
three and a half million dollars in debt after 10 years in government
without a leadership race."
Canadian Alliance currently has a debt of $2.3-million
but its House leader, John Reynolds, said in an interview with The
Hill Times earlier this month that the party has paid off a major
portion of its debt and very soon the Alliance will be the only
major political party in Canada that will be debt free. The Tories
and NDP are currently in a debt of $5.3-million and $379,000, respectively.
According to the numbers released by Elections
Canada last month, the Liberal party last year raised $15.9-million
in comparison to Canadian Alliance whose contributions decreased
by 80 per cent and managed to raise only $4-million in donations
last year. The Tories raked in $3.7 million while Bloc and NDP raised
$1.5-million and $4.4-million, respectively.
Mr. Chrétien has said he wants the Liberal
party to be debt-free before he leaves office. In this regard, Mr.
Chrétien asked his 29 cabinet ministers and 10 secretaries
of state last May to raise $25,000 each in an effort to pay off
the party debt but it's not clear if they heeded to his call. Mr.
Chrétien further advised his cabinet ministers not to attend
any fund raisers if the money raised in those events goes to the
MPs rather than the party.
Under current party rules, riding associations
must remit 10 per cent of the money raised between $15,000 and $25,000
to the Liberal party. If the money raised is more than $25,000,
25 per cent of that must go to the party.