Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tories offer us a million bucks

Would refuse money for administration

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Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister wrote a million-dollar cheque to the "People of Manitoba" on Thursday.

But while the cheque bore his signature, he isn't about to mortgage his Wellington Crescent mansion to make good on it.

Instead, Pallister used the giant symbolic cheque -- reminiscent of those handed to lottery winners -- as a prop to show how much money his party will save Manitobans by refusing to accept taxpayer funding for administration costs.

The Tories hope its refusal of the these funds -- and the rival NDP's likely acceptance of the same monies -- will become a wedge issue when Manitobans next go to the polls in 2015 or 2016.

The Manitoba legislature passed a bill last year enabling an independent commissioner to establish a funding formula for the province's five registered political parties.

Political scientist Paul Thomas recommended the parties divvy up $600,000 annually 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. The Green and Communist parties would receive lesser amounts.

The Conservatives have labelled the planned payments to political parties a vote tax and Pallister accused the governing party Thursday of placing its own well-being ahead of such voter priorities as health care, education and infrastructure concerns.

"We say (the) priorities of Manitobans are not propping up political parties whether they believe in them or not," the PC leader said in his second news conference in as many days.

"The government does not have the right to take money from Manitobans in tax dollars and give it to political parties. That is not right."

Premier Greg Selinger defended the legislation and Thomas's report, noting government funding of some political-party expenses was always part of the government's plan when it banned corporate and union donations years ago.

An earlier attempt at government funding of political parties failed when the Tories refused to accept the money and the NDP followed suit. The government then sought a process that would be more palatable for all parties.

Selinger said Thursday Thomas's plan would cost only 80 cents per voter per year. It will be especially beneficial to smaller parties who can now focus more of their energies on policy development, he said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 5, 2013 A10

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