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Maximum of $600K urged for party funding

Appointee submits new rules

A political scientist tasked with writing new rules governing public support for the province's five registered political parties has determined subsidies not exceed a total of $600,000 per year.

Paul Thomas was appointed last fall to come up with a new, workable means of subsidizing party operating costs after both major parties -- the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives -- continually shunned handouts under an old law.

In a 107-page report released Tuesday, Thomas established a new party-funding formula and placed Manitoba's new Election Financing Act, passed last June, in a Canadian context.

Under the new rules, which will be implemented in the next few weeks, political parties will be able to claim money for administrative and operating costs plus the expenses involved in complying with government regulations. Several other provinces already have similar legislation.

Parties will now be paid $100 for each candidate they endorsed in the last general election. The remainder of the subsidy -- not to exceed $600,000 -- will be handed out based on the number of votes each party received in the last two provincial votes.

Based on the results of the past two elections, the governing NDP would be eligible for $278,811 in government funding this year, while the Tories would qualify for $242,712 and the Liberals $63,255. The other two registered parties, the Greens and the Communists, would receive $14,449 and $773 respectively.

In the past, registered parties were eligible to receive $1.25 per vote up to a maximum of $250,000. When it came into force in 2008, the Conservatives labelled the former provision a "vote tax" and refused to accept it. The NDP followed suit. But the three smaller parties applied and received payments.

The Conservatives have previously said that they would not accept subsidies to offset party-administration costs under any new scheme -- including one devised by an independent allowance commissioner (Thomas).

On Tuesday, through a spokesman, Conservative Leader Brian Pallister declined comment on Thomas's report until he had a chance to study it.

NDP House Leader Jennifer Howard, who shepherded the new legislation through the house last spring, was not available for comment, a cabinet communications official said.

The NDP executive was blasted by its rank and file last year after it refused to accept an operating subsidy under the old law. Premier Greg Selinger and other members of the NDP caucus prevailed on the executive not to take the money. The decision led to the resignation of the party's president four days later.

Thomas was not asked to decide whether political parties should receive subsidies for their operating costs -- only to determine how to pay them. He noted Tuesday both major political parties currently accept various subsidies, including reimbursement for a large portion of their election expenses.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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