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Moe Sihota in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday November 29, 2009.Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Moe Sihota solicited donations for a stipend to compensate him for his work as the provincial New Democratic Party's president, says the head of the British Columbia Federation of Labour.

The NDP says it is paying Mr. Sihota, a former cabinet minister, a stipend using a "generous, earmarked gift from the labour movement."

British Columbia Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said his own group contributed $4,000 - after Mr. Sihota asked for a donation.

Mr. Sinclair said other unions also donated, although he didn't know which ones, or how much they had contributed.

"Moe approached the labour movement and said 'I'd like to get some help to do this job' " some time after he was elected president, Mr. Sinclair said. " 'I want to do it but it's a big job.' He approached a number of unions and some said yes and some said no."

The party made the admission after Mr. Sihota revealed the source of that stipend during a conference call with constituency association presidents last Thursday, after a volatile three-day caucus retreat.

That gift contrasts sharply with the party's public efforts to distance itself from labour, which included a 2005 move to reduce the influence of unions at party conventions.

In an e-mail, New Democratic provincial secretary Jan O'Brien would only say the stipend is "commensurate with what other BCNDP staff receive." But political pundit Bill Tieleman last week reported that sources had told him the amount was "to the tune of between $60,000 and $100,000 a year."

The Globe and Mail has been unable to confirm that report. But Mr. Sihota - who was elected to his present post in November, 2009 - told constituency association presidents:

"In my case, labour has traditionally made a donation to provide a stipend for the president because this is a full-time job. And that tradition has continued in this instance."

Ms. O'Brien didn't respond to a question as to which of Mr. Sihota's predecessors received a stipend, instead stating, "The role of party president has always been a demanding position requiring nearly full-time attention. We've been fortunate that the last two people in that role were able to dedicate a great deal of their time to the role."

Mara Parte, who was president from 2001 to 2003, said via a New Democratic caucus spokesperson that she did not receive a stipend.

Ms. Parte's predecessor, now MLA Bruce Ralston, did not respond to a request for comment.

But Patrice Pratt, who was president from 1992 to 1996, said, "I love to say this, I actually paid to be president of the NDP" - a reference to the incidental expenses she picked up out of her own pocket.

Ms. Pratt acknowledged she was a "well-paid" union employee at the time. And "certainly if I went to a national NDP convention I was in a hotel, a modest hotel, and I had meals paid and I had my flight paid. But that's it - expenses. I got zippo, nothing more."

Ian Aikenhead, who was president from 1989 to 1992, also did not receive any money. "I was a volunteer. Now, that was more than 20 years ago, and I don't know what traditions have developed since that time."

Ms. O'Brien said that Mr. Sihota is "able to dedicate his full attention to building our party, leading the executive team, and working with the caucus in Victoria as we build for the 2013 election."

She did not respond to a question as to which unions were behind the stipend, although their donations will be recorded in the party's annual report to Elections BC.

Chris Bradshaw, a spokesman for the BC Government and Service Employees' Union, "is not contributing to the fund that is going toward paying Moe Sihota's stipend."

Mr. Sinclair said he did not know whether the labour movement funded stipends for other New Democrat presidents. Mr. Sihota did not respond to a request for comment.

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