Editorial Comment

Funding Faux Pas

    I have a confession to make. When I was a member of Calmar’s town council for nine years, there is a good chance I broke the law. Luckily the transgression was never revealed and the statute of limitations has run out. It is no defense to say that I honestly had no idea I was breaking the law when I did, as ignorance of the law is no defense, unless, maybe you’re Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
    The law I broke, was to be reimbursed by the town for attending Conservative Party functions on behalf of the town. Apparently, I am just finding out, this is contrary to the Municipal Government Act. The rationale for this law is the belief that towns and other wards of the province should not have to pay money to a political party to get the ear of their MLA or specific cabinet member.              This may sound noble but the reality was then, that it was an excellent way to get access to members of the provincial government which is crucial to doing town work. In order to get anything done, the town needs the blessing of one provincial department or another, since they control and micromanage everything a municipality tries to do. To get an opportunity to meet with, say the transportation minister or the education minister about a problem with a local road or school is like gold to a town councilor. As an added bonus, at these political soirees, you get to share experiences with other councilors from other jurisdictions; expanding your network and learning other municipality’s best practices.
    No matter how useful a tool it is for a local official to gain face time with those in power, and admittedly, for provincial politicians to hear concerns from the leadership of their constituents, it has been illegal for some time, despite it being standard operating procedure. Whether or not it should be illegal is a whole different conversation. The fact is the practice was then, and still remains illegal and the ruling Conservatives have been doing it for a long time. So long have they been breaking this little tiny, not much talked about law, the Chief Electoral Officer, Brian Fjeldheim has allegedly identified 45 violations of the law where the party received donations from municipalities, school boards and other provincial entities just going back to 2010.  The amount raked into PC coffers amounted to over $20,000 which was ordered repaid, along with a series of fines totaling $7,060.00.             Some of the municipalities and governmental agencies revealed in Fjeldheim’s report included Sylvan Lake, Westlock County, and Grande Prairie Regional College. The latter, as reported in the National Post, was guilty of contributing $1350.00 with the purchase of six tickets to an October 2010 fundraising event while the Town of Whitecourt provided the PC’s with $1945.00 in funding through various dinners and golf tournaments.
    Opposition leaders are livid, of course, as they should be. They are charging that the PC party should also be on the hook for all the infractions committed prior to 2010, which some estimate to be as high as $70,000. If these were real crimes and not political crimes, the statute of limitations for illegal campaign funding would certainly not be just two years long. Why Fjeldheim wouldn’t pursue the illegalities before 2010 is curious. If it was illegal in 2009 and before, they should be made to pay it back. Can you imagine a judge telling an embezzler, “Although you have been stealing from that company for decades, just pay back what you stole the last couple years with a little fine and we’ll pretend nothing else ever happened. You can even keep your job where you stole the money from.”?
    What is outrageous is the party sees no need to pay back the pre-2010 funds as it is only being suggested by Fjeldheim, not being forced. Their argument is that they can’t know whether people attending their functions get reimbursed or not by their government agency. No law is broken if a town councilor pays for his own ticket to the dinner or golf tournament or whatever. It’s only when the agency pays for that ticket or entry fee that the Electoral Police come knocking at your door. Therefore, they suggest, the fault lies with the agencies, not the party and they shouldn’t be made to repay it.
    It sounds like what the party is saying is that if you are in receipt of stolen goods, you should get to keep them if you didn’t know they were stolen. This is not how the law of the land works, of course, and most everyone outside the Premier’s office knows it. That they think they are deserved of money proven to be received illegally has very bad optics. Premier Mom was supposed to be squeaky clean and a refreshing wind. It appears instead that she has adopted the worst aspects of the Conservative side of their party; the cronyism and gaming the system for personal and party profit, along with the most unfortunate facets of the Progressive wing of the group; micromanaging our private lives with intrusive legislation. Apparently, the party brain trust estimates they can weather the PR storm easier than they can replace the 70 grand. They may even be right, but as they continue to take these PR hits to support their entitled ways, the mighty Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, along with the electorate, will be watching their future re-election hopes die the death of a thousand cuts.

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