Bribing the Electorate: Canadian Politics Style

Last year Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party announced that they were increasing the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) to give parents with kids between 7 and 18 $60 per child per month while parents with kids under 7 would receive $160 per child per month, up from the initial $100 the Tories had been dolling out since 2006. However, rather than immediately start sending out cheques, the Tory government decided to wait until July of 2015 to send out months worth cheques in one go, describing it as “Chrismas in July.”

The fact that this massive mail-out came only months before a federal election was not lost on anyone.  The most common descriptor applied to the UCCB by opponents of the program was, unsurprisingly, bribe.  See this representative example from the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s Twitter feed (PSAC):

However, opposition to the UCCB and the government’s crass role-out strategy was not limited to unions or to Twitter, as this Globe and Mail article demonstrates. The word vote-buying comes up a lot.

But now lets rewind to late 1944. This time its the Liberals who are in power and facing a challenge from a  left-wing party in the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the party who later went on to form the NDP.  Particularly ominous for Liberal Leader and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was the fact that Tommy Douglas and the Saskatchewan CCF had managed to gain power in that province  while the federal party, led by Saskatchewan Member of Parliament M.J. Coldwell gained traction nationally. Sensing that part of the CCF’s popularity was based on their advocacy for an extensive welfare provisions, King sought to undercut his opposition. Rather than creating the national programs that the CCF called for, King and the Liberal Government would instead give each family $5.83 per child per month (roughly $79 a month in 2015 money).

Predictably, the CCF and the Progressive Conservatives and their federal leader, John Bracken, were strongly opposed to this policy.   In a prepared statement delivered in Ottawa in June of 1944, Bracken outlines his party’s opposition to the measure. Of particular note is his description of “Baby Bonuses” as, “a political bribe.”

Progressive Conservative Party Leader John Bracken criticizes "Baby Bonus" policy.

Progressive Conservative Party Leader John Bracken criticizes “Baby Bonus” policy.

The Liberals fought back, making the Baby Bonus a centre-piece of their 1945 Federal Election platform. In particular the National Liberal Federation issued a number of pamphlets and posters trumpeting the benefits of Family Allowances and refuting Tory and CCF attacks on the Liberal’s signature policy.

Vote Liberal and you too could be this happy!

Vote Liberal and you too could be this happy!

Another Liberal Campaign Poster from 1945

Liberal Campaign Poster from 1945

Liberal Campaign Poster from 1945

Another Liberal Campaign Poster from 1945

As you can see, many of the Conservatives attacks are similar in tone and content to what opponents of the UCCB are employing today. While the political and economic context has changed greatly in the past 70 years, it is interesting how the specter of bribing the electorate still has such rhetorical power.

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