Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister is opposed to the idea that political parties should get a per-vote subsidy from government.
And on Thursday, he also opposed the appointment of William Neville to determine what that subsidy should be.
Dubbing the subsidy a vote tax, Pallister repeated a previous pledge that the Progressive Conservatives will not accept the $1.25 per vote the party is entitled to under the law established in 2007. To this point, only the Liberal Party has accepted the subsidy, though the New Democrats, while refusing the subsidy, have internally debated whether the party should accept the money.
“It’s not Manitoban,” Pallister said of the subsidy. “Manitoba leads the country in volunteerism, and what this proposes to do is replace the dollars political parties have to go to you and ask your permission to take in donations with coerced tax dollars taken without your permission and given to political parties to operate. This is not an intelligent proposal.”
NDP house leader Jennifer Howard said that if the Tories don’t want government subsidies for political parties, they should return the approximate $1 million in reimbursed election expenses claimed by candidates receiving more than 10 per cent of the votes cast in their constituencies.
“I don’t know if Mr. Pallister is aware of the fact his party has already applied for and received $1 million in public funds as a result of the last election,” Howard said.
“They apply, as we do, for subsidies based on what they spend during an election campaign. Every time taxpayers give a donation to the Conservatives or any other political party, there is a tax credit that is subsidized by taxpayers and yet they accept all of that.
“If I was trying to hold the position that there shouldn’t be public funding of political parties when I was in receipt of $1 million, I would feel a bit like a hypocrite. But Mr. Pallister can decide for himself how he can hold such a contradictory viewpoint.”
Pallister argued the per-vote subsidy will encourage people to pay less attention to politics and that it makes political parties less accountable to the people they represent. He said political parties exist for the purpose of gaining support from individuals “through their ideas and their energy.”
“If they don’t have enough ideas and energy to get that support, they shouldn’t be in business. What the NDP is doing here is showing they don’t understand the values of Manitobans. Manitobans respect honest hard work and the PC Party is ready to earn their support.”
The per-vote subsidy has a place in a democratic society, Howard said, as they ensure there are “functional political parties.” She noted that when the NDP took power, they imposed a ban on union and corporate donations, and the per-vote subsidy ensures the parties have the money they need to be in compliance with existing laws and that there is transparency in the system.
“The system Bill Neville is going to look at very clearly excludes costs such as polling and advertising and is designed to make sure parties have the money they need to comply with the law,” Howard said.
“I think it’s very disrespectful of Mr. Neville to make a conclusion before he’s gone through the process that he’s going to go through. I have a lot of faith that he’ll come up with a fair system. But I am also troubled by the desire to limit people’s participation in a democratic process.”
Howard pointed to the way campaigns are funded in the United States as an example of what could happen if Conservatives were able to reverse the changes made by the NDP, adding the participation in the political system would be confined to “millionaires and billionaires.”
Pallister said political parties should not be entitled to four years worth of funding at $1.25 per vote because a voter made one decision in the ballot box, as over the course of a four-year mandate, the nearly $1 million the NDP would net could pay for “1,000 hockey registrations or soccer registrations or piano lessons.”
The Tory leader rejected claims that voters made their decision on which party to fund by casting ballots for their candidates, adding that funds used to pay the political parties would come from general revenue.
“Political parties should be funded by the people directly, not indirectly,” Pallister said.
Had all of Manitoba’s registered political parties taken the per-vote subsidy they were entitled to, they would have received the following on an annual basis, according to the 2011 general election results: $248,836.25 for the New Democrats, $235,668.75 for the Progressive Conservatives, $40,522.50 for the Liberals, $13,607.50 for the Greens and $223.75 for the Communists.
Independent candidates do not qualify for the subsidy, but if they had, they would have split $268.75.
Neville’s appointment follows a bill passed this spring in the legislature that ensured Manitoba is the first province or territory to have an independent commissioner to rule on the public funding process for political parties.
A report on Neville’s findings must be filed before Dec. 14, or within three months of his appointment. If more time is required, they must ask Speaker Daryl Reid for an extension.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 21, 2012