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How Canada's Election Laws Screw Independents

Official registered party or GTFO.

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Sure, you could run for a major political party. But you'd have to network with partisans, win a nomination race, and get approved by your party leader. So why not run as an Independent?

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All you need is 100 signatures and a $1,000 deposit and you can get your name on a ballot for Parliament.

The only downside is the deck is stacked against you and you'll almost certainly lose.

Via giphy.com

Of course there are inherent disadvantages that come with being an Independent. You don't have party staffers or advertising behind you.

But beyond that, Canada's election laws give a big financial advantage to the major parties.

Party candidates can fundraise any time, year after year. Independents cannot.

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Canadians can donate up to $1,500 to a candidate each year. That means over a typical-four year election cycle you could give $6,000 to a party candidate.

But Independents can't start fundraising until the writ is dropped and an election is underway.

And election laws encourage you to donate often — there's an extremely generous 75% tax credit on the first $200 you donate every year.

Plus, if party candidates have money left over after an election they can keep it for next time. Independents have to hand it all over to the government. Thanks to this rule, Independent candidate Brent Rathgeber is battling money he raised himself.

Twitter: @brentrathgeber

Rathgeber was elected as a Conservative in 2011 but left in 2013 when the party gutted his bill.

Rathgeber raised so much money in 2011 that he left close to $50,000 with the local riding association. Now his Conservative opponent can use that money against him. Meanwhile, Rathgeber wasn't allowed to raise a penny until the election was called this month.

"The conservatives are using money that I rose to unseat me, that's absolutely correct," said Rathgeber in an interview. "That would be cruel irony."

Elections Canada has called for fixes to this imbalance since the 1990s. Consecutive Liberal and Conservative governments have ignored it. Even the sweeping election reform law passed last year made no changes for Independents.

In theory, everyone should have a fair chance to run for Parliament in a democracy. But in Canada the political parties have created fundraising rules so lopsided that their candidates have a major head start.

"A level playing field doesn't serve the interests of those who currently have power," said Rathgeber.

"That's why it's been overlooked notwithstanding numerous overhauls of our election law."

The fear around letting Independent candidates fundraise is that they would go around issuing tax rebates but then take the money and flee to Mexico. Rathgeber and others have proposed solutions to this, such as having respected local residents act as guarantors.

So far those proposals have all been ignored. Rathgeber says he believes he has a competitive shot to win the riding of Edmonton-St. Albert. If he does so he'll join Bill Casey, Andre Arthur, and Chuck Cadman as the only Independents to win an election race in the past two decades.

Paul McLeod is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Paul McLeod at paul.mcleod@buzzfeed.com.

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