Higher subsidies for political parties among changes in Manitoba omnibus bill

Manitoba’s NDP government is looking to increase publicly funded rebates for political parties and candidates.

The measure is part of an 89-page omnibus budget bill put before the legislature Monday. It would boost rebates so parties and candidates would get 50 per cent of their eligible election spending reimbursed, up from 25 per cent.

Finance Minister Adrien Sala said the move will ensure money is not a barrier for people who want to run for office.

“That measure will help to ensure that anyone who wants to participate in our democracy has the ability to do so,” Sala said.

The former Progressive Conservative government had cut the rebate to 25 per cent from 50 per cent.

Former premier Brian Pallister said the rebate was a subsidy for politicians that was unfair to Manitobans. He initially tried to eliminate the rebate entirely but compromised in an agreement with the NDP and Liberals.

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Bringing the rebate back up could prove controversial, a political analyst said.

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“Rebates back to political parties is a sensitive issue. Some people think they’re feathering their own nests,” said Christopher Adams, an adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

If the bill becomes law, it would add hundreds of thousands of dollars to party coffers, especially those of the bigger parties.

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The NDP spent $1.5 million in last year’s provincial election campaign, filings with Elections Manitoba show. The Tories spent $1.4 million and the Liberals spent $138,000.

The omnibus bill contains dozens of other changes, including the elimination of certain debt-reduction targets for Crown-owned Manitoba Hydro that were set by the former Tory government.

Sala said that change will help keep Hydro rates affordable. The NDP promised in the election campaign to freeze Hydro rates for one year but has yet to say when that freeze might occur.

Credit rating agencies have raised concerns about Manitoba Hydro’s debt level and have said it exceeds that of similar utilities in other provinces.

The omnibus bill also contains measures the government originally planned to introduce in separate bills, such as a ban on the use of replacement workers during labour disputes and the establishment of a seniors advocate who would report to the legislature.

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Wrapping those and dozens of other measures into the budget bill should improve the chances of getting the changes passed into law before the end of the year.

The Tories, now in Opposition, said the government’s move was concerning.

“They’ve had ample opportunity to introduce these bills in a way that would allow them to be considered thoughtfully by both the public and the legislature. And they’ve failed to do that. Now they’re ramming it in,” Tory deputy leader Kathleen Cook said.

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