Sav­ing ‘slush fund’ dol­lars

Politi­cians must re­spect ev­ery tax­payer dol­lar to help those in real need

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Wayne Young Wayne Young is an in­struc­tor in the jour­nal­ism pro­gram at Hol­land Col­lege in Char­lot­te­town.

“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.

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