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The Progressive Conservative Party of Newfoundland and Labrador has been raising money by the bucketfuls in recent years. That shouldn’t come as a shock. The party has enjoyed tremendous public support under former premier Danny Williams and its current leader, Premier Kathy Dunderdale.
It’s also common practice that donors — especially large businesses — will throw most of their money at the governing party, and we’ll let you decide why that might be the case.
To get a sense of the party’s fundraising success, take a look at the annual reports of donations to political parties filed online by Elections Newfoundland and Labrador.
A vast majority of donations on the list are for the PC party, and originate from such business giants as Vale Canada Limited, the Bank of Nova Scotia, Shoppers Drug Mart Corporation, Provincial Airlines Limited, PHB Group Inc., and Pennecon.
Ocean Choice International, for example, donated $6,600 to the PC party in 2010.
It makes for interesting reading, but the two items that especially caught our attention last week were the two donations by the Town of Carbonear. One was for $100, and the second was for $150. It turns out this was the receipted amount for the $500 paid by the town to purchase a table at a district fundraising dinner in June 2010. Under the rules governing donations, half the total expenditure was considered an expense to pay for the dinners.
In comparison to others, it was a rather small donation, and we’re not saying the town did anything wrong, since there are no restrictions on who can donate to a political party in this province. The town council was also wise enough to approve the expenditure in a public meeting, and those contacted on this issue last week were forthcoming in providing information and defending their actions.
But we can’t help but wonder why the town sees fit to spend taxpayers’ money to help fill the coffers of the provincial Tory party. Is this an ethical use of those funds? Should there be a rule that prevents municipalities from making such donations? How do Carbonear citizens feel about having their taxes being spent in such a fashion? What do town officials expect to get in return for these donations? Should councillors be digging into their own pockets if they want to attend such partisan events?
These are all valid questions, and we put them out their for citizens to consider.
It’s worth pointing out that only one other municipality — Badger — made the list in 2010, keeping in mind that only donations in excess of $100 are published online. You can bet that many other municipalities are paying for councillors to attend political functions, but we don’t hear about them because they don’t cross the monetary threshold outlined in the Elections Act.
Perhaps it’s time the province tightened up its political fundraising legislation, similar to what the federal government has done in recent years.
After all, is it really necessary that the gatekeepers of our tax dollars be permitted to make political donations on our behalf? Shouldn’t that be the individual choice of each and every one of us?
— Terry Roberts