Coun­cil de­fends po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions

Car­bon­ear one of only two towns to do­nate to a party in 2010

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERRY ROBERTS

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.

Con­tro­ver­sial prac­tice

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.

Eth­i­cal quag­mire

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.

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