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New commissioner appointed to develop public financing of political parties

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The Selinger government has named a new independent allowance commissioner.

Political scientist Paul Thomas will replace William Neville, who has had to step aside due to personal circumstances, the province announced this afternoon.

Neville was named to the post in mid-September. He had been asked to come up with a new system for subsidizing political parties after the province’s two major parties refused to tap into the old one.

Several years ago, the NDP government under Gary Doer created a taxpayer subsidy to help political parties cope with the financial hit from an earlier ban on corporate and union donations.

Each registered party was allowed to apply annually for a government payment of $1.25 for each vote it received in the last general election, to a maximum of $250,000. However, the Tories balked at the subsidy. They termed it a "vote tax" and refused to apply for their share. The NDP, placed in an awkward political position, followed suit.

As a result, the NDP has passed up $1 million in taxpayer funding over the past four years while the Conservatives have refused roughly $800,000.

Meanwhile, the smaller parties, with much smaller budgets, have accepted the annual subsidy. The Liberals have pocketed $253,427 over the last four years, the Green party has collected $29,529 and the Communist party $2,400. The annual minimum subsidy is $600 a year.

Last spring, the government passed legislation permitting the hiring of an independent allowance commissioner to develop a new public financing process for political parties.

When he was appointed two months ago, Neville was given 90 days to submit a report to the speaker of the legislature.

Thomas is professor emeritus in political studies at the University of Manitoba. He was recently appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons to serve on the 2012 Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Manitoba.

Government House Leader Jennifer Howard said in announcing the appointment that Thomas has a reputation for objective, non-partisan work on public policy issues.

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