|Buying a Government|
I was hoping this fall sitting of the Legislature would be spent discussing how to improve health care and education, as well as how to deal with our province’s growing deficit crisis; however it looks like the issues of PC entitlement and corruption have yet again reared their ugly heads.
On Monday, The Government defended its bizarre decision to raise all MLA salaries by over $10,000 a year after campaigning on decreasing remuneration for MLAs during the recent election campaign.
If carried out, this 8% increase in MLA pay not only represents another broken election promise by this Premier, but will also lose the Government any credibility it had left when negotiating contracts with public sector employees. How can the Government only offer a rate of inflation salary increase to teachers and nurses when it raises its own salaries 2 to 3 times that amount? The Wildrose, along with the NDP, voted against the decision but to no avail.
And then came one of the most troubling revelations I have ever witnessed as a member of the Legislature.
Several media outlets reported that Darryl Katz, owner of the Edmonton Oilers, had arranged for himself, his companies, family and business associates to donate between $300,000 and $430,000 to the PC Party during the last week of the recent election campaign. The PCs. It turns out, they had only raised about $1 million during the campaign compared with the Wildrose’s $3 million. However unlike the Wildrose who only spent what they raised, the PCs had spent $4.5 million ($3.5 million more than they raised) and were desperate to pay their bills. Enter in the Katz donation.
There are 4 primary reasons why this is quickly turning into the largest election financing scandal in Alberta’s already checkered history.
First, the limit any individual or company can donate to a political party during an election is $30,000. The Globe & Mail reported that Mr. Katz allegedly delivered a single cheque in the amount of $430,000 to the PC Party. If true, this would be a clear violation of Alberta elections law which specifically limits personal donations to $30,000 and prohibits individuals from donating money that is not their own. In other words, this may have been illegal although we’ll have to wait for an investigation in order to verify it.
Second, the massive amount of the Katz (and friends) donation represents a remarkable 20-30% of the entire amount donated to the PC Party during the election. The current Alberta Elections Act clearly limits donations to $30,000 per person not only because Albertans want to limit the influence of one wealthy individual from altering the results of elections, but also because Albertans don’t want their government to feel beholden to any one interest group or individual after the election is over. It’s hard to imagine how the PCs would not feel obligated to Mr. Katz on a go forward basis, given they may owe this individual their entire election win given this money was given to them when they had almost entirely run out of cash in the last week of the campaign.
Which brings us to the third problem. Mr. Katz is currently lobbying for taxpayer money from the province and the City of Edmonton in the amount of at least $100 million for his newly proposed hockey arena. Katz is lobbying the provincial Government for a new casino license as well. The conflict of interest here is undeniable. The Redford PCs are now completely compromised on these requests because they accepted the massive donation. So even if the request from Katz on the casino license is a reasonable one, any decision by Redford to grant that request will be viewed as tainted.
And this leads to the final major problem; it turns out that a deal for $100 million of taxpayer money for Katz’ new arena may in fact have already been brokered. Although the Premier denies that any direct provincial funding will be sent, in her typical hair splitting way, she never ruled out indirect funding through grants to the City of Edmonton which could then be spent on the arena. And it just so happens that in September, Mayor Mandel of Edmonton when questioned on whether the $100 million for the arena would be made available by the province, he stated: “they (the province) are working on a program for that. We don’t need the money today but we’ve been very confident that program will be in place and would allow us to get that kind of funding needed from the province for the balance of the arena. So that isn’t an issue. We feel the province has been in great support of the city and that money would be there.”
Well of course the money will be there for the arena Mr. Mandel…I have 430,000 reasons to believe you.
There is a legitimate debate to be had on whether taxpayer funds should be used for an arena that has some community functions but is primarily for a professional sports team. I personally do not feel taxpayer funding should be used for such a facility, however, that is not the point here.
The point is the Government of Alberta should not be made available to be bought and paid for by the highest available bidder, nor should it appear to be so even if it’s not the case.
What has occurred here is a scandal, and the PCs should return the full amount of the donation to Mr. Katz and restore any integrity they have left.