You should be in parliament

A run for office is far cheaper than you think

Admit it, you’ve thought about it. Your local MP is a joke, and those two-faced politicians running the country seem to think they’re running a three-ring circus. You could do better — if you could get into power, that is. But only millionaires can afford the signs, leaflets and staff you need to run a political campaign, right?

Actually, no. In Canada, almost anyone can afford to run. If you decide to enter the race when the next election is called, your run for glory will likely cost you less than the price of a used car.

Most of your out-of-pocket expenses will come before the actual election, when you’re trying to land the nomination from a major party, says Garth Turner, the Liberal member of Parliament for Halton, Ont. “Once you get the nomination, you can basically use other people’s money to finance your campaign,” he says. “But getting the nomination will cost you between $5,000 and $20,000. For a desirable riding, you have no idea if you’ll get it or not — and you never get that money back.”

Before you’re a party’s official candidate, you can’t issue tax receipts, so no one will donate money to your campaign “unless they love you, like maybe your mother,” says Turner. But once you’ve hooked up with a major party, you can turn to your local riding association, which usually has a fundraising machine in place. And you only have to raise a modest amount because there are strict limits on what you can spend.

The limit varies from riding to riding, but on average you can’t spend more than about $80,000 once the election has been called. Established politicians in winnable ridings usually spend the maximum, but if you’re a Green Party candidate in a riding that always votes Conservative, you’ll likely spend much less. Elections Canada says the average amount a candidate spent in the 2004 election was $26,000. If you look only at the candidates running for a major party, the average shoots up to about $40,000.

Chances are that most of your election expenses won’t have to come out of your pocket. Elections Canada will reimburse candidates for 60% of their eligible election expenses, as long as they get at least 10% of the vote.

Libby Davies, the NDP member of Parliament for Vancouver East, says that when it comes to fundraising, belonging to a major party helps, but the party doesn’t actually send you cash. She funds her campaigns with small donations from regular folks. The rules limit donations to $1,100 per person; corporations, lobby groups and unions are no longer allowed to donate at all.

Turner says if things don’t go your way, a run for office could end up costing you thousands, but for him the risk was worth it. “If you’re thinking of buying something frivolous, like a yacht or a Mercedes, you might want to consider trading that for an experience that very few Canadians will ever have, which is to sit in the federal Parliament of Canada,” he says. “It’s an experience that you’ll never forget.”