Pil­lag­ing of party de­mands ac­tion

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

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.

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