It's not the size of your chequebook -- it's about an equal playing field.
With that, Manitoba's NDP confirmed Monday it would be accepting a taxpayer-funded political subsidy again this year to cover its operating and administrative costs.
"We know that it shouldn't be the size of your wallet or your friend's wallet to determine your ability to get your ideas across," NDP house leader Andrew Swan said Monday. "We support public financing as a way to bring fairness into the political system."
'That's how we limit the power of big money in a democracy. I know that gets under (the PCs') skin. It's not a surprise'
There are two public subsidies available to provincial politicians in Manitoba:
1) Annual allowance for registered parties: It's intended to cover administration and operating expenses. The Liberals, Green Party of Manitoba and Communist Party of Manitoba have each accepted it each year since 2008. The PCs have declined to accept it, and the NDP only first accepted it last year.
2) Candidates and political parties are also reimbursed following an election campaign. Candidates who receive 10 per cent of the valid votes in their electoral division are eligible for reimbursement. For example, for the 2012 Fort Whyte byelection, PC Leader Brian Pallister was eligible for $16,107.54. For the 2011 general election, the PCs were reimbursed $709,336.34.
The NDP government under former premier Gary Doer created a taxpayer subsidy in 2008 for major political parties to help them cope with the financial hit from an earlier ban on corporate and union donations. In 2000, the NDP passed amendments to the Elections Financing Act that restricted donations to political parties in the province, limiting individuals to a $3,000 maximum a year and banning all donations from unions and corporations. The intent was to prevent corporations and unions from controlling governments by handing over big wads of cash.
"That's how we limit the power of big money in a democracy," Premier Greg Selinger said during Monday's question period. "I know that gets under (the PCs') skin. It's not a surprise."
The new subsidy was brought in to allow each registered party to apply annually for a government allowance of $1.25 for each vote it received in the last general election, to a maximum of $250,000.
However, the Tories immediately rejected it and labelled it a "vote tax." The NDP also declined to accept it until last year.
'We're not willing to take money from Manitobans who don't choose to support us'
PC Leader Brian Pallister said Monday his party still wants nothing to do with the subsidy.
"We're not willing to take money from Manitobans who don't choose to support us," he said. "It's not up to the public to subsidize political parties that are unwilling to go and raise their own money. That to me is what the 'vote tax' is all about. It's a subsidy for laziness."
The NDP hired political scientist Paul Thomas about two years ago to recommend a way for the subsidy to be more palatable for all parties; however, the Tories refused to discuss it with him.
Thomas recommended the parties divvy up a $600,000 pot annually based on the number of candidates they endorsed in the last provincial election and the number of votes they received in the past two elections. Last year under his formula, the NDP was entitled to $278,811 per year, the Progressive Conservatives $242,712, the Liberals $63,255, the Greens $14,449 and the Communists $773.
'I think it's important in terms of fairness and to make sure there is broad representation'
But the NDP said Thomas's plan was too rich, given the government's fiscal position. The NDP accepted its share, but placed it in a "non-interest trust account" until the government decided how much to trim from the overall subsidy. The NDP later said the subsidy would be trimmed by 30 per cent. It meant it would receive $195,167 for 2012 instead of $278,811.
Swan said the NDP will do the same for the 2013 subsidy.
Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard said his party supports the subsidy because it allows more participation in the political process. The Liberals accepted $63,255 last year.
"I think it's important in terms of fairness and to make sure there is broad representation," Gerrard said.
Pallister also said if the PCs win the next election in two years, he would eliminate the subsidy.
"Political parties should be agents of the people, not agents of the state," he said. "They need to work for their support, and they need to ask for their support. That's the job of political parties."