Pillaging of party demands action
The demands on P.E.I. Auditor-General Jane MacAdam keep piling up. The latest call to action comes from Kevin Lacey, the Atlantic director for the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, over revelations involving operating grants.
Details about these so-called ‘slush funds’ were printed over the last week or so in The Guardian. The fact the slush funds exist is disturbing enough, but details provided Saturday how Opposition office money was pillaged by several party officials certainly justify an investigation.
Mr. Lacey is concerned over two issues: Is there anything improper going on with the use of taxpayer money; and how to ensure that misuse of public money doesn’t re-occur?
The monthly operating grants to government backbenchers, Opposition and Third Party offices don’t fall under public scrutiny, nor are they available under access to information requests. The yearly budget line item of between $200,000 and $300,000 is camouflaged under the term ‘grants.’
A Guardian investigation revealed Opposition officials paid a former party chief of staff $18,463.50 months after he had been laid off in early 2013 — and after he had collected four months of severance pay. Both payments came from P.E.I. taxpayers.
The party’s former leader and a former MLA authorized the cheques without the knowledge of other caucus members or officials. It appears the payments were designed to bankrupt the party through vindictive measures.
The money might not have been illegally paid but it certainly was immoral and unethical. It hamstrung the party from providing effective opposition to the government and curbed its ability to question and challenge the government, or provide options to policies and decisions. The grants are there to help parties run their daily affairs, not fattening severance buyouts.
Caucus operating grants are not audited, but are only presented to the province’s legislative management committee annually. Forthwith, a full accounting of this money must take place.
Premier Wade MacLauchlan and the government must take action. They must call in the auditor general and have all parties open up their books to ensure spending is proper and taxpayers’ money is being protected. Changes should also be made to ensure all MLA spending is released to the public.
If these grants were scrutinized and transparent, we wouldn’t be faced with these unsavory examples of misuse of taxpayers’ money today. The number of investigative inquiries being placed on Ms. MacAdam’s agenda certainly doesn’t reflect well on the ethics or integrity of certain P.E.I. politicians or senior staff members.
The revelations Saturday might shed some light on why Mr. Perry — who switched to the Liberals later in 2013 — was suddenly dropped by the premier from cabinet two days earlier.
It’s not enough that Premier MacLauchlan promised to post additional expenses in the new year. The recent revelations are too serious. Public confidence must be restored.