09/20/2012 11:04 EDT | Updated 11/20/2012 05:12 EST

End public subsidy for political parties: Manitoba Opposition Tories

WINNIPEG - Manitoba's Opposition leader called for an end to public subsidies for political parties Thursday, but quickly found himself being accused of hypocrisy by the NDP government.

Brian Pallister sees no need for a subsidy that has existed, at least on paper, since 2007. It allows parties to receive $1.25 a year for every vote they received in the most recent election. The Tories have adamantly refused to accept their share, worth about $200,000 a year. The NDP followed suit, despite protests from delegates at the party's annual conventions who say the $250,000 they're entitled to is needed.

The subsidy has proven so unpopular with the general public, the government recently hired an independent commissioner to find another way to finance party operations. Pallister said the whole idea should be axed and parties should be forced to raise money from donations.

"Political parties should only exist as a consequence of their ability to reach out and ask individual people for support," Pallister said.

"Participation and financial contributions to a political party should be voluntary."

The NDP pointed out that Pallister's party has received other statutory subsidies, including a 50 per cent rebate on election campaign expenses.

"The reality is, his party has applied for and has begun to receive $1 million in public subsidies as a result of the last election," said Jennifer Howard, NDP house leader.

Pallister said there is no contradiction in his position.

"The conduct of elections is necessary for people to have a choice, but the funding of the operation of a political party is not. They're two very different things."

How to fund political parties has been a hot potato for a decade. The NDP banned union and corporate donations and instituted the per-vote subsidy as a replacement. But only the Liberals, who hold just one of the 57 legislature seats, have applied for the money.

Howard said public subsidies are needed to ensure that elections are not dominated by the rich.

"We can watch an election right now happening (in the United States) where the people with the deepest pockets are the ones that get to speak the loudest. And they're the ones that get to have the most influence."

Pallister suggested voluntary donations are a better representation of the democratic will. Forcing voters to pay for the daily operations of parties amounts to "pick-pocketing," he said.

"We will go to Manitobans and ask for that support and we'll earn it."