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Reality Check: Are political parties paying for their campaigns? It’s complicated

WATCH ABOVE: Conservative leader Stephen Harper says federal parties should pay election costs.

Stephen Harper justified his early election call by arguing the parties have already started campaigning, so why not make it official?

”The campaigns of the other parties, as near as I can tell, have already begun,” he told reporters outside Rideau Hall Sunday morning.

“I’m beginning our campaign today. I feel very strongly that if we’re going to begin our campaigns and are going to run our campaigns, then those campaigns need to be conducted under the rules of the law, that the money come from the parties themselves, not from the government resources, parliamentary resources or taxpayer resources. And that’s what we’re doing.”

“What we do by calling this campaign, is making sure that we are all operating within the rules and making sure we are all operating within the rules and not using taxpayer money directly.”

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In-Depth: The 2015 Federal Election

That “indirectly” is an important qualifier: The parties are spending your money, at the end of the day. And a lot of it too.

Taxpayers subsidize 50 per cent of a party’s national campaign expenses, and 60 per cent of a candidate’s expenses.

And the longer the campaign is, the more money each party is allowed to spend: The early election call gives parties about $50 million for this election, approximately double what the budget would be if it were the 37-day minimum.

That puts taxpayers on the hook for $70 million if all three parties spend the limit – $45 million more than you would have spent had the campaign started later.

That’s not all: Up to 75 per cent of political party donations are tax-deductible, which means your tax dollars are also subsidizing $300 of the first $400 donors give the parties of their choice.

READ MORE: Trudeau, Harper set their sights on Toronto, Mulcair on Montreal

The Canadian Taxpayer Federation estimates those tax rebates are worth up to $36 million.

Elections Canada, which administers the election, also spends taxpayer money. Their expenses go up with each passing day of the campaign. The exact number won’t be known until after the election.

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The agency estimated the 2011 general election cost $291 million. Expect a bigger number this year as inflation and the higher cost of postage take their toll.

An Elections Canada spokesperson told The Globe and Mail that the agency will also have to spend more on offices, salaries, and staff.

– With files from Amy Minsky

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