Council defends political donations
Carbonear one of only two towns to donate to a party in 2010
Carbonear Mayor Sam Slade is defending the town’s practice of donating to the Progressive Conservative party, saying “ we know how they work on our behalf.”
Slade also points out the town would support other political parties if there was a request.
“ If it was a Liberal function tomorrow, and we were asked to purchase tickets, we would do the same,” Slade says.
According to the 2010 report on donations to political parties in this province, the Town of Carbonear made two separate donations to the PC party — one for $100 and a second for $150.
Under the Elections Act, any donation in excess of $100 is included in the annual report, which is published online.Under the rules, a maximum of $50 for the cost of a ticket to a fundraising event such as a dinner or a golf tournament is considered an expense, not a donation. So a $100 expense to purchase a ticket would only require a donation receipt of $50.
Past reports indicate the Town of Carbonear made a $400 donation to the party in 2009, while the Town of Harbour Grace made a $160 donation in 2009.
Only one other municipality — the Town of Badger, at $ 400 — made a donation to a political party in 2010. It, too, was to the PC party.
The vast majority of the donations came from businesses, unions and individuals.
When asked if it was a wise and appropriate use of taxpayers’ money, Slade replied by saying the donation was a council decision.
“ The town should support this. This is how council felt about it,” Slade explained.
Deputy Mayor Ches Ash said the donations were related to a June 2010 fundraising dinner hosted by the Carbonear-Harbour Grace PC district association. Ash said council unanimously approved the spending of $ 500 to purchase a table at a June 7, 2010 meeting.
He said the town approved a similar expenditure this year.
Ash said the decision to purchase the tickets was made at a public meeting, with the funds coming from the town’s promotions and marketing budget.
“ We saw that as a legitimate expense within that budget. In doing that, council makes every effort to spend our money in a responsible way … and we didn’t see that as being unreasonable,” Ash said.
Ash said there were representatives from many other municipalities at the event.
The issue of municipalities donating to political parties has made headlines before in this province. Five years ago, municipalities on the west coast — Corner Brook, Stephenville and Pasadena — came under fire from New Democratic Party Leader Lorraine Michael for making donations to the PC party.
“ From an ethical perspective, with regard to the spending of taxpayers’ money, I do think it’s wrong,” Michael said at the time.
It appears most municipalities have since abandoned the practice, or donate amounts that do not exceed the criteria for public reporting.
But that’s not the case in Carbonear, andSlade said he’s open to a change in policy.
“If I got a message from the people, when this story goes out, they don’t think we should do this, I’m sure council will take it under advisement and cease immediately,” he said.
The town is represented by Carbonear-Harbour Grace MHA and Health and Community Services Minister Jerome Kennedy. Kennedy’s brother, David Kennedy, is a Carbonear town councillor.
David Kennedy confirmed that he voted in favour of the donations, but rejected the idea he was in a conflict of interest.
“It was for the PC party, and not Jerome,” David Kennedy wrote in a statement emailed to The Compass.
Kennedy added: “ Our council did note at the time that this was not a partisan act as we would also network at other political party functions if and when they arise in our area.”
The town has enjoyed unprecedented government investment, with some $ 100-plus million expected to be spent on a new longterm care facility and upgrades to Carbonear General Hospital in the coming years, and a new school is being built on Valley Road.
The province also made a substantial contribution to a $1 million upgrade to the Carbonear Swimming Pool, and chipped in some $670,000 for the purchase of a new aerial ladder truck for the Carbonear fire department.
MUN political scientist Alex Marland recently wrote a book chapter about the ethics of fundraising, and says there’s a potential for an “ethical quagmire” when municipalities make such donations.
He said ethics are subjective, based on time and place, and what might have been acceptable years ago may not be tolerable today.
If municipalities are making donations to political parties, it’s important that taxpayers know about it, and there needs to be support for it, he explained. He described this as informed consent.
“ What that tells me is that if people want it, then it passes the ethical test,” Marland explained.
“If people don’t know about it and disagree with the practice, there is an ethical problem.”
The value of such a donation should also be clearly communicated, he added.
He noted that those who donate to all political parties could be commended for supporting democracy, while those who support one party give the appearance of endorsing that party and its policies.
“ When somebody donates, they usually expect something in return,” said Marland.
There isn’t anything in provincial legislation that prohibits municipalities from making political contributions, and Marland wonders if that issue should be reexamined.
“ Why doesn’t the Elections Act prevent this?” Marland asked.
Bruce Chaulk is the assistant chief electoral officer with Elections Newfoundland and Labrador. He confirmed there are no restrictions on who can donate.