WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s governing Progressive Conservatives are already raising much more money than their opponents. But Premier Brian Pallister is now eyeing changes to fundraising rules that one analyst says would entrench the Tories’ ability to outspend and out-advertise the opposition.
In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press, Pallister said he is considering raising limits on political donations and how much money candidates and parties can spend during election campaigns.
“I think the intention here is to make sure there’s a fair system that’s transparent and that puts the onus on the political parties to raise their own money,” Pallister said.
Manitoba bans corporate and union donations and caps individual donations to a political party at $3,000 a year. Apart from federal legislation, Pallister said that’s one of the strictest limits in Canada.
“It’s been that way since 1999, so yeah, probably some adjustment up (is due),” Pallister said.
Boosting contribution limits would also help parties make up for a public subsidy that the Tories eliminated earlier this year, which rewarded parties based on how many votes they had received in recent elections, Pallister added.
On the spending side, parties and candidates are limited in what they can shell out during an election campaign according to a formula based on the number of registered voters. In the election campaign in April, parties were not allowed to spend more than $1.6 million — up to $842,639 of which could be advertising.
“There’s discussion on that,” Pallister said.
Analyst Paul Thomas said raising donation and spending limits would cement advantages the Tories already have through their sophisticated fundraising machinery.
“You’re reinforcing a built-in advantage they have at the present,” said Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba.
“The NDP … have tried to become more effective at raising dollars from small donors, but I don’t know whether they’ll ever be able to keep pace with the Conservatives.”
The Tories were already raising twice as much money as the NDP when they were in opposition. Now in government, and with the largest caucus Manitoba has seen in a century, the Tories have more hands on deck to raise cash.
The NDP, on the other hand, has seen donations drop sharply since losing the election. The party has also lost about one-quarter of its traditional revenues through the elimination of the per-vote subsidy this year. The Liberals also counted on the subsidy for about 25 per cent of their income.
The Tories never accepted the subsidy.
Pallister said the changes being considered are based on the idea that voters should donate voluntarily to the party of their choice, and that parties should have to work for their money.
“Political parties should be willing to go out and actively ask for support and generate it.”
The proposed changes are being panned by Democracy Watch, an Ottawa-based advocacy group. Co-founder Duff Conacher said higher donation and spending limits make the system less fair.
“A democratic political finance system upholds the principle of one-person, one vote, and that means no one should be allowed to donate more than what an average voter can afford,” Conacher said.
Conacher said annual donation limits in Quebec — $100 to a party and $100 to a candidate — are more appropriate.
Pallister has another donation change in mind that could dampen party income. He wants to reduce the stark difference between the tax credits people get for political and charitable donations.
“Why does a political party get a tax credit that’s bigger than The United Way?,” he said.
People who give money to political parties in Manitoba get up to 75 per cent of their money back. The same money given to a charity is subject to a maximum credit of 17.4 per cent.
“I want to make sure that political parties don’t have an unfair advantage.”