Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pallister slams NDP initiative on allowances

Taxpayer-funded payment a 'sham'

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GO fish.

That was the response by Opposition Leader Brian Pallister Thursday to an NDP initiative to come up with a more palatable way for all registered political parties to collect an annual, taxpayer-funded allowance.

Pallister called on Manitobans to snub what he said is an NDP-driven back-door effort to allow them to collect an extra $250,000 a year to pay for their operating expenses.

"I never want to be discouraging Manitobans from participating in the democratic process, but this is a sham," said Pallister, the Progressive Conservative leader. "I do not want to give it the credibility it does not deserve to have."

The province asked University of Manitoba political scientist Paul Thomas on Nov. 9 to come up with a new system for an annual allowance for registered political parties after Manitoba's two major parties refused to accept it. Thomas was given three months to submit his report and is accepting public input at www.allowancecommissionermb.ca.

Thomas said Thursday he understood the Progressive Conservative's position when he accepted the task.

"I would have hoped that the Conservatives might have at least given me some advice," said Thomas. He said it isn't his job to decide whether there will be allowances. "There has to be allowances. It's the law. My job is to define what's in the public interest and I've been given quite a bit of latitude to do that."

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.

The refusal to accept the allowance has caused a rift between the NDP's executive and its rank and file, who want the party to take the money. At last spring's NDP convention, party president Lorraine Sigurdson resigned over the issue.

Meanwhile, Manitoba's smaller political parties 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.

Thomas said he hopes to design a program that's less vague. New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec each have an allowance program, but without Manitoba's controversy. The Harper government has said it will phase out the federal per-vote subsidy by April 1, 2015.

"I want to stress that this has to be affordable," said Thomas. "We're in a period where people are disillusioned with political parties. The idea that you take scarce tax dollars and give them to parties is not likely to be a winner with a lot of people, yet parties need money, they need resources to do their job."

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

He said in the October 2011 general election the PCs raised $384,000 from donors who contributed $250 or less while the NDP raised $244,000 in similar donations.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2012 A6

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