March 25, 2019

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Manitoba parties send out political mailers paid for by taxpayer dollars

A mailer attacking PC leader Brian Pallister sent out by the NDP caucus.

A mailer attacking PC leader Brian Pallister sent out by the NDP caucus.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/1/2016 (1157 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitobans reaching into their mailboxes this month probably won’t be surprised to pull out pre-election attack ads, but what they may not know is the mailers are paid for with tax dollars.

The political parties have access to a pool of money through their MLA allowances and caucus budget that lets them send mailers on the taxpayers’ dime until Feb. 19.

With less than three months before the election on April 19, at least two ads were mailed out this month across the province by the NDP and Progressive Conservatives from their respective caucuses — both detailing strong criticism of the opposing party.

In a media event on Friday, PC leader Brian Pallister defended the move — arguing their caucus mailing, a four-page glossy newsletter which includes a scathing rundown of Premier Greg Selinger’s record — is factual and non-partisan, unlike the NDP’s recent flyer.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/1/2016 (1157 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitobans reaching into their mailboxes this month probably won’t be surprised to pull out pre-election attack ads, but what they may not know is the mailers are paid for with tax dollars.

The political parties have access to a pool of money through their MLA allowances and caucus budget that lets them send mailers on the taxpayers’ dime until Feb. 19.

Front page of a PC pamphlet sent out by the PC caucus.

Front page of a PC pamphlet sent out by the PC caucus.

With less than three months before the election on April 19, at least two ads were mailed out this month across the province by the NDP and Progressive Conservatives from their respective caucuses — both detailing strong criticism of the opposing party.

In a media event on Friday, PC leader Brian Pallister defended the move — arguing their caucus mailing, a four-page glossy newsletter which includes a scathing rundown of Premier Greg Selinger’s record — is factual and non-partisan, unlike the NDP’s recent flyer.

Pallister said the mailing was sent to 18-20 constituencies around the province.

"Manitobans and all people who live in democracies have choices to make, the choices have to made clear, but I don’t think they should be made clear by personal attacks," Pallister told the media, while holding up a recent attack ad sent by NDP caucus. "The taxpayers need to know who their premier is."

On principle, Pallister has always refused to take the taxpayer-funded political subsidy, which allows each registered party to apply annually for a government allowance of $1.25 for each vote it received in the last general election. He also been a vocal critic of NDP’s frequent use of MLA mailings to attack him. The subsidy would be worth roughly $250,000 annually for the Tories.

"Dollars should be used to inform constituents of their activities, not to provide misleading information about their political opponents," the PC party stated in its recently released open government initiative.

However, in this case Pallister said he refused to use PC party funds because they’re already "not taking a million dollars from the taxpayer, which means there is not a level playing field here."

"If you’re asking why aren’t we being even more honourable than we already are? We already gave a million dollars back," he said, referencing the money he has saved the taxpayer by refusing to take the subsidy over a four-year period.

The governing New Democrats’ flyer, sent to households last week, has a doom and gloom appearance, with a forlorn-looking Pallister featured alongside the words, "He has an agenda: Deep cuts and privatization." The flyer, which holds little information beyond criticism of the Tories, states Pallister’s cuts will mean fewer nurses and fewer teachers and he will "hurt Manitoba families."

"Every media outlet has reported that this contains falsehoods and misinformation about me, now this is about taxpayers having to pay for misinformation, that’s an issue I believe in strongly," Pallister said.

Both parties say they are playing by the rules, which state mailers sent through caucus budgets or through a mailing by an MLA must be non-partisan. Non-partisan, according to the administrative office of the Legislative Assembly, means the mailing must not solicit money or votes, it must not bear the party’s exact colour and cannot ask for party membership.

A flyer sent out by the Manitoba Liberal caucus.

VIA TWITTER

A flyer sent out by the Manitoba Liberal caucus.

The NDP and Progressive Conservatives did not disclose how much of the caucus budget they spent on the mailings.

An interview with NDP caucus chair Matt Wiebe was declined, but in a statement sent to the Free Press attributed to Wiebe, he said the mailings are paid for through MLA budgets, which allots an allowance for MLAs to send out mailings to their constituencies to inform constituents of activities.

Manitoba Liberal leader Rana Bokhari described the mailers as "disrespectful of taxpayers’ dollars" and said the rules need to be clarified so Manitobans can understand better who is paying for the mailouts.

"The rules need to be looked at and clarified so there is no blurring of the lines between caucus dollars and party dollars, essentially they are blurring the line between what are taxpayers’ dollars versus what the party is paying for to mailout, something that is promoting their party," she said.

While she criticized the practice, her own party sent out a flyer last month through the Liberal caucus budget, for a flyer featuring Bokhari’s photo, with no mention of River Heights MLA Jon Gerrard, the only sitting Liberal MLA.

Political analyst and author Chris Adams argues that most people probably don’t know the difference between caucus (the elected member of a party) and the party (a political group) or realize that their mailings can come from either group. However, in what is likely going to turn to an ugly election, he isn’t surprised the parties are using every resource at their disposal.

"Every party is trying to pull whatever lever they can to get support," Adams said. "It is a bit disconcerting that taxpayer money is put into partisan activities."

kristin.annable@freepress.mb.ca

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