Minutes of the Citizen round table meetings of March 12 and 19, 2021: abridged version

Friday, March 12, 2021

On March 12, 2021, the members of the Citizen round table addressed the issue of political financing for the first time since the start of their mandate. The half-day meeting was devoted to presentations on the role and method of operation of political parties and on the framework of political financing in preparation for the workshops scheduled for the March 19, 2021, meeting. The complete meeting minutes are available (in French only).

Word from the Chief Electoral Officer

The Chief Electoral Officer, Pierre Reid, said he was satisfied to be able to address the issue of political financing with the members of the table. He acknowledged that the framework for political financing appears to be technical. However, he stressed that fairness and transparency principles guided its development in Québec. Therefore, he invited members to discuss and reflect on these two principles.

Introductory workshop: the group barometer

The introductory workshop was intended to understand the state of mind of members of the Citizen round table when addressing the issue of political financing. To this end, members were asked to say the first words that came to mind when thinking about this theme. They found a duality between several of them. For example, some words, like fairness, express idealism, and others, like corruption, cynicism. One member believes that this division correctly reflects the general population’s attitude towards political financing.

Then, in reaction to the preparation guide they received before the meeting, several members mentioned political financing framework aspects in Québec that surprised or interested them. For example, some were surprised to see the extent of the framework in place in Québec.

Presentation on political parties

The first presentation served as a reminder of the role of political parties in a representative democracy and in a parliamentary system. It was also used to discuss the different ways in which political parties operate.

Mr. Éric Montigny, professor in the Political Science Department at Université Laval and scientific director of the Research Chair on Democracy and Parliamentary Institutions, began with a theoretical overview of political parties as organizations. He then spoke about the evolution of the Québec partisan system since 1867, activism in the digital age, and Québec political financing. He concluded his presentation by answering questions from members.

Presentation on political financing in Québec

The second presentation allowed members to learn more about the principal political financing framework dimensions in Québec and the principles underlying the rules it governs.

Simon Couture, team ticket of the political financing coordination team at Élections Québec, presented the various rules that govern political financing to ensure fair and transparent electoral competition. He began with a historical and political overview to make members better understand the origins of Québec’s approach to controlling political financing. He then gave an overview of the current political financing framework before announcing the future perspectives on this subject and answering questions from members.

Friday, March 19, 2021

The half-day meeting on March 19, 2021, was also devoted to political financing. It was conducted in the form of workshops that addressed two main issues: the share of public funding, crowdfunding and the contributions limit.

Group barometer

Before beginning the workshops, Élections Québec suggested to the members of the Citizen round table that they repeat the previous meeting experience. They were asked to write three words about their perception of political financing. Once the words were put on the screen, members could see some evolution since the last meeting. However, the duality between the political financing framework principles and the more negative perception of the subject was still present.

Workshop 1: Public funding and crowdfunding

For the first workshop, Élections Québec wanted to know the members’ opinions on the current political financing model, mainly with regard to public funding and its various mechanisms. Members were asked to comment on three concepts:

  1. The principles of public funding and crowdfunding as well as the objectives and benefits of each;
  2. Public funding mechanisms, such as the annual allowance and matching amounts, their purposes and benefits;
  3. Typical political financing scenarios, proposing different breakdowns of public funding and crowdfunding sources.

Workshop 2: Political contributions

For the second workshop, Élections Québec wanted to gather members’ opinions on the current political contributions limit. This limit is now $100 per elector (per party and authorized independent candidate) and $200 in an election year. Members were asked about two concepts:

  1. The principles and reasons for contributing;
  2. The contributions limit.

Main ideas expressed by members during the two workshops

  • In a reflection on political financing, a majority of members propose to review sources of public funding and crowdfunding to promote a balance between them (between 40% and 60%). A minority of members proposed maintaining the current proportions (75% public funding and 25% crowdfunding).
  • Evaluate public funding mechanisms to ensure that they allow for the emergence and consolidation of new ideas and political parties. Several members propose that the prescribed allowance and matching amounts be regressive (first votes and first dollars in contributions could result in larger amounts, which would gradually decrease).
  • Evaluate the limit set for contributions in terms of fairness, accessibility and plurality principles. The amount authorized should not lead to believe that people making a contribution are to expect a benefit in return. Most members set this limit between $100 and $250, but some go as high as $500 (for many political parties or candidates).