For five years, the idea of political parties in Manitoba taking public subsidies for their day-to-day operations has been a political hot potato — both the governing New Democrats and the Opposition Progressive Conservatives refused to accept the money.
That changed Thursday, when the NDP said they will start accepting a revamped version of the subsidy that could be worth up to $280,000 a year.
"We don't want to just have democracy for millionaires and large, well-funded political parties by special interests like we see in the United States," Premier Greg Selinger said Thursday.
"We think political parties and the political process is best-served by having a large number of Manitobans being able to support them."
Tory Leader Brian Pallister promised Thursday to continue to reject the money. He showed reporters a novelty cheque, made out to Manitoba taxpayers, worth $1 million — the amount the Tories would receive over the next four years.
"We believe in merit and will do what other hard-working Manitobans do for their money — we'll earn it (through donations)," Pallister said.
The push for a public subsidy grew out of the NDP's decision more than a decade ago to ban corporate and union donations.
In 2007, the NDP created a plan to replace the money by giving each registered political party $1.25 a year for every vote they received in the most recent election.
The Tories immediately refused to accept their share and called the idea a "vote tax." The NDP also declined its share of the cash, despite protests from delegates at the party's annual conventions.
The government decided to try another route last year by appointing Paul Thomas, a former political science professor, as an independent commissioner to find an acceptable form of subsidy.
Thomas suggested each party be given $100 for every candidate that ran in the most recent election, along with money based on the average number of votes received over the two most recent elections.
Selinger said Thomas's report is fair and will help all parties, including smaller ones, survive. The Liberals, who have just one legislature seat, have been the only party to accept the money to date.
"This is all about making democracy accessible to all Manitobans of all political persuasions," he said.
Selinger said his party has not determined how much money it will accept, but hinted it will be below the $280,000-a-year allotment.
The Tories would be eligible for about $250,000 annually.
The subsidy gives parties money for administrative duties — not for advertising.
It is on top of other, traditional political subsidies, including a 50 per cent reimbursement of election campaign expenses and a tax credit for people who donate money to parties or candidates.