Monday, June 04, 2012

The vote tax: All is not well in the House of Selinger!


NDP rises against its executive
President quits over financing

By Larry Kusch
Monday, June 4, 2012


Anger over the Manitoba NDP executive's refusal to carry out a 2011 convention directive on election financing boiled over Sunday at this year's AGM, where it was also learned the party's president had resigned over the matter.

At a special meeting on April 26, the NDP's 24-member executive decided -- against the wishes of the rank and file -- not to apply for an annual subsidy available to all political parties.

At the time, the NDP was just days away from missing the deadline for filing the paperwork for the subsidy, authorized by legislation passed nearly four years ago.

Under the Election Finances Act, registered political parties can apply each year for a subsidy of $1.25 for every ballot cast their way in the preceding general election. The subsidy was introduced after the government outlawed corporate and union donations to political parties.

Since it was proclaimed, the legislation has been a political football for Manitoba's two major political parties. The Progressive Conservatives, terming the subsidy a "vote tax," have refused to apply for it. The NDP -- despite grumbling from the rank and file -- have also eschewed the subsidy.

Last spring, frustrated NDP members passed a motion at the convention demanding the party apply for the money -- some $250,000 a year.

Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL), said the executive violated the party's constitution in failing to carry out the convention motion. He said it was "shameful" he had to introduce a new motion directing the party to accept public financing again this year. His motion easily passed.

Susan Hart-Kulbaba, representing the United Food and Commercial Workers union, was just as blunt.

"I have to tell you I'm exceedingly pissed off about it," Hart-Kulbaba, a former MFL president, told delegates at the Victoria Inn. "We don't come here to sit here and make policy and not have it followed."

No member of the party executive rose Sunday to defend its decision to ignore party policy. Bob Mayer, an executive member at large, said he supported public financing of political parties. He also shot down a rumour party president Lorraine Sigurdson had not sought re-election because she was ill.

"She resigned as our president because she could not put up with the executive purporting to overrule a decision of this convention. You are entitled to know that," Mayer told delegates.

Reached at her Interlake home, where she is recovering from surgery, Sigurdson confirmed she had resigned on principle over the executive's refusal to carry out the party's wishes. Before the April 26 meeting,

Sigurdson said, she had planned to let her name stand for re-election, even if she couldn't attend the convention because of her health.

"I hope that people who thought it was OK (to break the party's constitution) got a message that it wasn't OK," Sigurdson said after hearing of the fireworks.

Most resolutions passed at NDP conventions are directed at the government, and Premier Greg Selinger and his caucus are not bound to carry out those policies. However, convention resolutions directed at the party are another matter, Sigurdson said.

No delegate rose to oppose this year's motion demanding the party accept public funding. Some rank-and-file members felt there also should have been a motion of censure against the executive.

Many NDP members feel strongly about public funding of political parties, saying it aids democracy by preventing those with full wallets from exercising undue influence on elections.

The Selinger government introduced a bill last month that would leave the matter of how public subsidies are paid to parties to a new independent commissioner. It hopes the amendment will make the issue less politically charged. The bill is expected to pass before the legislature rises later this month.

Ellen Olfert, formerly the party vice-president, was acclaimed as the NDP's provincial president on Saturday. She said a majority on the executive felt, with new legislation coming, it would be best to forgo the subsidy this year. She would not say how she voted.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

New Democrats pass resolutions

Manitoba New Democrats passed dozens of resolutions at their three-day meeting, including:

- A motion demanding the party accept public financing of political parties allowed under law

- A call on the province to provide long-term funding to municipalities to improve bicycle lanes and trails, and dedicating a certain percentage of infrastructure spending to active transportation

- A motion calling on the government to establish youth centres to combat homelessness among youth and young adults

- A recommendation urging the province to allow discussion in schools of issues relating to homosexuality, abortion, and masturbation without fear of repercussion

- A unanimous motion calling on the province to condemn Ottawa's decision to cut funding for environmental research in the Experimental Lakes Area

- A call for the government to improve recycling opportunities in provincial parks

- A resolution urging the Selinger government to launch a long-term public campaign to repeal Ottawa's controversial old age security reforms

- A call for the province to lobby Ottawa to spend the same amount of money funding First Nations students living on reserves as Manitoba provides for students living off-reserve

Meanwhile, the party's grassroots deferred a resolution calling on the provincial government to hike the PST by a percentage point to raise more money to fix Manitoba's roads and bridges

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 4, 2012 A3

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