Saving ‘slush fund’ dollars
Politicians must respect every taxpayer dollar to help those in real need
“I feel so blessed.” A West Prince woman was reacting this week to an outpouring of support for the economic straight jacket she found herself in – one familiar to more Islanders than we might dare to imagine.
The single mother was grateful that her near-empty oil tank was filled by a caring Islander and that she was given a lift to Summerside so she could apply for assistance under the Salvation Army’s home heating program.
She had gone public earlier in the week out of frustration that she had to make an hour-long drive to Summerside to apply for the tank of oil she desperately needed. She had only $5, not enough to make the trip. Supporting a 10-year-old daughter, she told The Journal-Pioneer she finds it tough getting by on unemployment insurance benefits.
After learning her plight, many Islanders characteristically stepped up to help her out, at least in the short-term. But in the long-term, she and others who find themselves struggling to balance their daily affairs could use more help, at very least to ensure they’re able to access supports that are available.
When it comes to running their daily affairs, the Opposition and backbenchers’ offices also need help and they get it, too, in the form of annual operating grants.
But some of them, according to a Guardian investigation, are using it as a “slush fund” to direct taxpayers’ dollars to questionable projects – like paying more than $18,000 to a party staffer after he had already been laid off and collected four months of severance pay. No doubt, he felt blessed, too.
Incredibly, governments have not felt the need to hold MLAs to public account for the way they spend these grants which total nearly a quarter of a million dollars. The Guardian investigation showed that while the expenditures are presented annually to the province’s legislative management committee, the money is not audited, nor can the expenses be viewed by the public or accessed through freedom of information.
Among other things, the grants allow MLAs to expense mileage, donations to charities or fundraisers as well as officerelated expenses. Perhaps it’s time they started paying some of those expenses out of their own pockets. Just because they get an operating grant doesn’t mean they’re obligated to spend every last dime.
And if, at the end of the fiscal year, there was money unspent they might consider donating it to a worthy cause – like topping up government’s contribution to the emergency home-heating program for low-income families.
Then, rather than dodging questions about how they spend our money and fending off demands to call in the Auditor General to investigate, MLAs would be anxious to throw open the books and show us how their frugality directly helped Islanders who need it most.
After accepting a drive to Summerside to fill out a home heating application, the West Prince woman returned home to find her oil tank had been filled. A bill on the door simply said it was “compliments of a Good Samaritan, no charge.”
We need more Good Samaritans, yes, but we also need more political decision-makers who understand that unless they respect every taxpayer dollar we entrust to them, some Islanders are going to be left shivering in the cold.
Paul Vander Velden of Noonan Petroleum fills a residential fuel tank in Summerside this week. Noonan Petroleum will be helping the Salvation Army by making deliveries for its home heating assistance program.