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Party-funding plan too rich, says NDP

Proposal would cost taxpayers $600K

The Selinger government believes a new formula unveiled this week for subsidizing Manitoba's five registered political parties is a tad rich, given the economic times.

In a report Tuesday, political scientist Paul Thomas recommended the parties divvy up $600,000 based on a formula that recognizes the number of candidates they endorsed in the last general election and the votes they received over the past two elections.

It meant the governing NDP stood to gain $278,811 to offset administrative and operating costs for the past year, while the Tories could receive $242,712 and the Liberals $63,255.

But NDP house leader Jennifer Howard said late Wednesday the full $600,000 Thomas envisaged "is not something that is affordable right now."

Howard said the government has not determined what the cap should be, adding it could be set out in the forthcoming provincial budget.

She noted under the previous party funding arrangement -- which both the NDP and Tories refused to tap into -- the maximum any party could receive in a given year was $250,000. "I think that that's a good starting point to have some discussion about," Howard said in an interview.

The public financing of political parties has been a political football in Manitoba since the NDP introduced annual per-vote subsidies in 2008. That followed a ban, some years earlier, on union and corporate donations to political parties.

The Conservatives rejected the old $1.25-per-vote subsidy calling it a "vote tax," and the NDP followed suit -- much to the chagrin of the party's grassroots. So, since 2008, only the Liberals, the Greens, and the Communists have collected the subsidy, which was based on the number of votes each party received in the previous general election.

Last spring, the NDP government introduced new legislation putting much of the control over the funding of political parties into the hands of an independent "allowance commissioner."

Thomas was appointed to the position last fall and issued his report on Tuesday.

Parties would no longer have to apply for funds; monies would be paid out directly to them after they fulfilled certain requirements, such as filing their financial reports. The money could only be used for administrative and operating expenses and to offset costs incurred in complying with government regulation.

However, on Wednesday, Conservative Leader Brian Pallister was still adamant the Tories would not take a dime of it.

"The difference between us and the NDP is clear on this issue. We believe you should earn your support by asking for it, and you should earn it on the basis of merit, not by forceably taking money from a taxpayer who may or may not support your political party," he told a news conference.

Howard said she believed her party would accept the money -- whatever amount that now may be.

NDP party president Ellen Olfert said while her executive has not made a decision on Thomas's report, the party's grassroots have made it known they believe in public funding of political parties.

Meanwhile, both the Liberals and the Green party welcomed Thomas's report Wednesday.

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard said there is a place for both private and public funding of political parties. Private donations usually come from those with good incomes and low-income earners are under-represented under a purely private system, he said. "I think it (the report) sends a message that everybody counts."

The Greens, which stood to gain $14,449 under Thomas's recommendation, commended the commissioner's work, although they noted his mandate was relatively narrow and did not include the examination of all forms of public support for political parties, such as election-expense reimbursements.


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