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Manitoba Liberals Seeking to Change Definition of “Official Party Status”

October 1, 2019

We were duly elected by our constituents as Manitoba Liberals. We ran on a slate together. We meet and work together. We ran 57 candidates and our party earned 15% of the popular vote - approximately half of the support of the NDP and slightly under one-third of the support of the PCs.

We believe the question is not so much "Why should we be recognized as an official party?" as "Given the facts, how can official party status be denied?"

In Canada, there is no standard definition of "official party." Other provinces, including ones with larger legislatures, recognize official party status with fewer seats. It may be a combination of either seat count, or seat count and popular vote. (The latter prevents two or three MLAs who have been kicked out of caucus from forming their own party.)

In Saskatchewan, official party status is 2 of 61 seats. In Nova Scotia, it is 2 of 51 seats, and in Newfoundland and Labrador, it is 2 of 40 seats. In the House of Commons, it is 12 of 338 seats. In Alberta, 4 of 87 seats is considered official party status, although parties with two seats have often been recognized. In BC, the Greens have recently been recognized as an official party with three seats.

If the only reason that we are to be denied our right to properly represent Manitobans is because of a 95-year-old rule - that is no reason at all.

The current legislation dates back to 1924. Manitoba had a much different electoral system then. It included proportional representation for Winnipeg. Full enfranchisement for First Nations in Provincial elections did not even happen until 1952, when the Manitoba Liberal Government of the day corrected that historic error.

The current rules say that in Manitoba, the three Manitoba Liberal MLAs must sit as "Independents."

We are seeking to modernize the 95-year-old rule that sets "official party status" by introducing a bill that will change the definition from four seats to either four seats, or two seats with 10% of the popular vote in the previous election. This election, the Manitoba Liberals earned 15% of the popular vote - approximately half of the NDP vote. It makes little sense that the Manitoba Liberal Party is not considered "official".

There are limits placed on the role of independent MLAs. The decisions governing budgets and rules are set by "official parties." This means those rules can be used to relegate independent MLAs to "second-class" status in ways that is less than democratic.

The resources independent MLAs have to represent their constituents, and even their ability to speak or ask questions is determined by "official parties".

Official parties have voted themselves better pay rates, more and better paid staff, and have rights to speak in the house and on committee without asking permission of another party.

Independent MLAs have their budgets set by official parties. Independent MLAs may have to ask permission of other parties to speak, and unanimous approval is required. This means a single objection can silence an Independent MLA.

There are a couple of reasons for the ways that Independent MLAs are treated, and neither are compatible with democracy.

Because some MLAs only become independent after they have been kicked out of their own party and because they have behaved badly, the treatment of independents is a form of punishment. Stripping independent MLAs of resources and the ability to speak is an extension of party discipline and the threat of kicking an MLA out of caucus gives parties more power to keep their own MLAs in line.

The other is simply that it serves the purpose of silencing and marginalizing third parties.

In a democracy, the clash of ideas and competing accounts of issues is essential to making government better. No party has a monopoly on either truth or power. The role of opposition parties is not just to criticize, but to challenge the government to prove their ideas.

While there are financial benefits for members that come with becoming an official party, we are not requesting any as part of this amendment. As opposition members, we cannot present bills that would create any new expenditure. We believe the principle speaks for itself.

Democracy is strengthened by more voices, not fewer.

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