A new law proposes Manitoba taxpayers cover 50 percent of political election campaigns

Gage Haubrich: Should Manitoba taxpayers foot the bill for politicians' campaigns?It was very generous of you, dear taxpayer, to help pay for the election campaigns for provincial politicians.

Oh dear, you didn’t know you paid for that? Funny, the political parties didn’t send you a thank-you note. It’s almost as if they’re hoping you won’t notice.

Well, here’s what’s happening.

Currently, candidates and political parties are eligible to have up to 25 percent of their expenses reimbursed. But buried deep at the end of the Manitoban government’s budget bill is another gift for provincial politicians paid for by taxpayers.

The new law proposes increasing the amount taxpayers will reimburse political candidates and parties for their election expenses to 50 percent of the total cost.

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KEEP AN EYE ON MANITOBA

That means that half of the cost of lawn signs, junk mail and campaign offices we all enjoy so much during provincial elections will be paid for by you.

It gets worse.

Even though this measure is included in the budget bill, there is no mention of it in the budget itself.

This move is a step backward. Politicians should be funding their campaigns with the contributions of people who choose to support them, not from taxpayers who have no choice.

Former premier Brian Pallister wanted to completely axe the subsidy, this political welfare, but in a compromise with the then-opposition NDP, he cut it in half from 50 to 25 percent. This new proposal would hike the political welfare right back up to the old number.

When he was in charge, Pallister clearly stated that Manitoba taxpayers should not fund political parties’ activities.

“The same way Manitobans have to work for their money, we have to work for ours,” Pallister said back in 2019.

That principle hasn’t changed. If this political welfare proposal becomes law, hundreds of thousands of additional taxpayer dollars will go to political parties and candidates during every election.

Finance Minister Adrien Sala says the change is necessary because it “will help to ensure that anyone who wants to participate in our democracy has the ability to do so.”

Nothing is stopping anyone from running for office in Manitoba. Increasing the existing taxpayer-funded handout simply adds another car to the political gravy train. Any candidate with a reasonable chance to win an election should be able to attract enough donations from willing supporters to run a campaign.

If you can’t pay the bills from your supporters, it’s likely a good bet you aren’t going to do that well on election night anyway.

Alberta does not offer reimbursement for politicians seeking office, and major political parties in the province have no problem attracting candidates. And even for the other provinces that offer some sort of reimbursement, the requirements to qualify are much more stringent.

To qualify for reimbursement in Saskatchewan, a candidate must get at least 15 percent of the vote. In Manitoba, the number to qualify is only five percent.

Plus, if a candidate wins in Manitoba, they get access to a plethora of taxpayer-funded benefits like a six-figure salary, a very generous pension and a transition payment for when they decide to leave office or are eventually defeated.

These benefits are even more generous when compared to the average Manitoban. MLAs in Manitoba make about 178 percent more per year than the average constituent they represent. Only about four percent of workers in Manitoban have a workplace pension plan.

More broadly, Manitobans can’t afford to shell out any more money to the government and the government can’t afford any more spending. This year’s budget also projects the government will be spending $1.4 billion more than last year’s budget. Provincial politicians need to be looking for ways to save money, not giving themselves more money at election time at the taxpayers’ expense.

Politicians should be working for donations from prospective constituents during their campaigns, not taking taxpayer handouts. Instead of increasing the handout to politicians, Premier Wab Kinew should cancel this entire scheme altogether.

Gage Haubrich is the Prairie Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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