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Pallister calls for end to per-vote subsidy for political parties

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Opposition Leader Brian Pallister called on Manitobans on Thursday to snub what he called an NDP-driven backdoor effort to subsidize political parties.

Pallister said for the public to participate in it, it would only legitimize the process.

"We’re urging Manitobans not to respect the process in which the NDP has established to try to reward itself undeservedly through the awarding of operational funds paid for by Manitoba taxpayers," Pallister said.

Political scientist Paul Thomas has been asked by the NDP to come up with a new system for an annual allowance for registered political parties after the province's two major parties refused to take advantage of it.

In 2008 the NDP government under Gary Doer created a taxpayer subsidy — it was part of the omnibus Bill 37 — to help political parties cope with the financial hit from an earlier ban on corporate and union donations.

Each registered party was allowed 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 balked at the payment and termed it a "vote tax." The PCs refused to apply for their share and the NDP soon followed.

As a result, the NDP has passed up $1 million in taxpayer funding over the past four years while the Conservatives have shunned roughly $800,000 in payments. Meanwhile, the smaller parties, with much smaller budgets, have accepted the annual subsidy. The Liberals have pocketed $253,427 over the last four years, the Green Party has collected $29,529 and the Communist Party $2,400. The annual minimum subsidy is $600 a year.

Last spring, the government passed legislation allowing for the hiring of an independent allowance commissioner to develop a new public-financing process for political parties. Thomas was appointed Nov. 9 and was given three months to submit his report.

Pallister said political parties should support themselves through collecting donations from supporters. However, he said he does support subsidies for election expenses as elections contribute to the democratic process.

"We want the NDP to take responsibility for this plan and to stop hiding behind the good name of University of Manitoba Professor Dr. Paul Thomas," Pallister said. "The NDP wants this taxpayer-funded vote-tax and is trying to legitimize it by appointing a respected professor."

Thomas is a professor emeritus in political studies and former Duff Roblin Professor of Government at the University of Manitoba. He is the author of approximately 150 articles and chapters in books on Canadian politics and political parties, as well as having been a researcher for the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform. He was recently appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons to serve on the 2012 Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Manitoba.

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