"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The amazing atrophying democracy (II)

Despite the best efforts of Elections Nova Scotia to obfuscate the data, this corner has been able to crunch a few numbers which put the atrophying of party democracy in Newfoundland and Labrador into a comparative context.

The following charts were generated by extracting data from Elections Newfoundland and Labrador and Elections Nova Scotia's legally-mandated disclosures of party and election campaign financing. The data under consideration here include personal donations, from in-province donors, to registered parties, from 2005 to 2010. (Nova Scotia figures are not available on line for earlier years.)

That is to say, corporate, union, and strange miscellaneous donations to parties are not included. In addition, only contributions to central party coffers are included; contributions to election and by-election candidates, and, in Nova Scotia, to district associations, are excluded. Donations from out-of-province contributors are also excluded. Finally, in order to ensure and apples-to-apples comparison, Nova Scotia contributions under $100 (about 5.6% of the total) have also been excluded, to ensure that the data set is comparable to the Elections NL disclosure, which is only required for donations of $100 or more.

Note that these figures may also be further slightly distorted due to
(A) Different reporting conventions in the two provinces: In NS any given contributor's multiple donations are usually aggregated for the entire year, while in NL there are some donors who give multiple reportable contributions throughout the year, and who are reported separately for each contribution.

(B) The fact that there were two provincial general elections in NS during the study period (2006 and 2009) vs. just one in NL (2007). Elections tend to shake loose the cash.
With these caveats in mind, let's look first at the average size of personal contributions to party finances. At first blush, the two provinces are roughly comparable in this respect. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the average party contribution was about $311, while in Nova Scotia it was $250. In both provinces, the average contribution tended to be smaller from rural donors than from donors in the province's largest metropolitan areas (St. John's or Halifax, including their suburbs, respectively.)
However, the overall similarity in donation size masks a stark and important contrast between the two provinces. This chart shows the total rate of donations, expressed as the number of donations per 1,000 of population (as estimated in 2010) per year:
As previously noted, political contributions in NL are heavily skewed by source towards the St. John's urban area. There were about 1.8 party finance contributions, per person, per year from the St. John's metropolitan area. In the rest of the province, the figure is an anemic 0.4 contributions per 1,000 per year. In a town of 2,000 people (say, Wabush), you might statistically expect just under one person to have contributed to the NL party financing system in any given year.

Urban or rural, financial participation in party politics pales in comparison to Nova Scotia, where the number of political contributions averages 3.3 per 1,000 per year. Furthermore, there is very little skewing of this figure towards the provincial capital (3.6, vs. 3.1 in the rest of the province.)

The same trends appear in the total monetary value of party contributions, again expressed in population terms (dollars per person per year):
In NL, the entire population donated an average of $0.28 — 28 cents — per person per year to the registered provincial political parties. For metro St. John's, the figure is $0.59, which means, conversely, that in the rest of the province the average contribution was a meagre $0.10 per person per year.

By sharp, sharp contrast, in NS the average contribution per person per year in rural areas alone was $0.68, higher than the figure for St. John's, and just over $1.00 for metro Halifax. Nova Scotia as a whole scored $0.82 per person per year, so while there was still a marked difference between rural and urban participation in the party system, it was nothing like the near non-existence of political parties in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

Finally, this chart shows the two metro areas' relative shares of their provincial populations, the total number of party finance conributions, and their total dollar vallue. (Remember, contrary to very popular myth, St. John's does not have nearly as large a share of the provincial population as it thinks it does.) Again, the relatively egalitarian situation in Nova Scotia contrasts vividly with the northeast-Avalon-dominated participation in political parties across the water:

In Newfoundland and Labrador, politics is a spectator sport, not an audience participation event, especially in rural areas.

These numbers make it abundantly clear that it will be very difficult for the political parties in Newfoundland and Labrador to accept making the major, and positive, legislative change which came into effect in 2010 in Nova Scotia, namely, the prohibition of all corporate, union, and organizational donations to the political and electoral process, and all contributions from outside the province.

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