Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Vote payouts offend

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The Tories did the math: The new formula for the vote subsidy to political parties will put more taxpayer cash into the pockets of parties that accept it, effectively $1.37 per vote secured, 12 cents more than the previous allotment. The Progressive Conservatives say they are not taking the subsidy. And neither should any other party.

The subsidy, larded on top of a combination of long-established reimbursements for candidate and party expenses and tax credits for donors, is simply wrong. Political parties ought to earn their keep by knocking on doors and appealing to donors by selling the strength of their ideas.

Paul Thomas, however, was allowed only to decide how to pay out a vote subsidy, not whether one should exist. The Selinger government last year appointed the "allowance commissioner" to rework the subsidy after it became politically risky for the NDP to accept the per vote payout they legislated in 2008. The Tories, refusing to take the handout during a global recession, embarrassed the government to follow suit.

Indeed, the obvious argument against a subsidy is contained within the Thomas report, released Tuesday. Since refusing the subsidy, the Tories and the NDP have been fundraising aggressively, it noted, such that neither party has seen a drop in revenues. In other words, they got better at appealing to donors.

The old subsidy scheme paid parties $1.25 per vote earned, with a minimum payout of $600 -- a reward for showing up that only the Communist Party was paid. The new scheme is more lucrative for all parties, including the NDP which got fewer votes than in 2007. Gone is the maximum $250,000 a party can claim, but the total pot to be shared is capped at $600,000. Retroactive to 2012, parties get $100 for every candidate they endorsed in the last election, plus a share of the remaining pot based on their proportion of the vote.

This guaranteed return to parties is an unnecessary drain on provincial revenues. Further, in these successive years of deficit-financing, the party subsidies will be paid with borrowed money. A bearable amount, Mr. Thomas might say, within the $11.7-billion provincial expenditures. But it is debt nonetheless, entirely unnecessary and offensive.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 21, 2013 A14

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