Recently, Toronto mayor Rob Ford has been ordered out of office by the courts due to his actions regarding the use
of public funds City letterhead to raise money for a football team, and more importantly taking part in the council vote on whether or not he did anything wrong. At the trial, it was pretty obvious that Ford had flouted the laws regarding conflict of interest, and behaved as if he was “above the law”. While I like Rob Ford for his candid speech, and his dislike of bureaucracy and the ridiculous rules that come from it – this is one place where the rules make sense. Misuse of public funds and fFailing to recuse yourself from situations where you have an interest, or even the appearance of an interest, must be done to avoid corruption.
I have edited the prior paragraph based on comments from two of my readers. These are the dangers of listening to the MSM – I got the impression from television reports that public funds were available – why else would they make such a big deal of it…. oh yeah, “they” hate Rob Ford…
While the Toronto situation was over a relatively small sum of money and it was really the problems of failing to recuse himself that got him in trouble, here in Alberta we have what should be a much bigger story.
Premier Alison Redford has three bad news stories for her party and leadership, all of which relate to questions of honesty, influence and conflict of interest:
- First, the PC party received essentially 30% of their funding during the last election campaign from a single donor, Daryl Katz. Beyond all the debate over whether his donation was legally split between multiple donors, or whether the maximum legal donation limit is too high – the problem is that this creates the impression of undue influence on decisions involving the donor and the Provincial Government. The federal government has largely solved this by banning corporate and union donations and limiting individual donors to a small sum. What Katz and the PCs have done may be perfectly legal as per the letter of the law, but the impression it gives is not good.
- Second, the PC party received donations from Lynn Redford, sister of the current Premier, which were then expensed back to her employer, Calgary Health Region (a subsidiary of Alberta Health). Lynn Redford continues in an executive capacity with Alberta Health Services as a vice president. Under the law, it appears pretty clear that the public sector is banned from spending money to support political causes – for obvious reasons of conflict of interest. It would seem that expensing money she spent on political fundraisers or donations falls afoul of these regulations, although the government is trying to pass legislation prevents investigations more than 3 years before the present, which would protect Lynn Redford’s actions. One question I would have for the tax authorities: If Lynn Redford donated money to the PC party in 2005 and expensed the donations/spending – she should not have been eligible to claim any tax deduction. The question is, did she also claim the deduction? I haven’t seen her tax returns, so I don’t know – but this might be another route to investigated if any wrongdoing occurred.
- Finally, the premier herself, while Justice Minister, appears to have been a key decision maker in selecting the law firm where he ex-husband and friend, Robert Hawkes (son of former PC MP Jim Hawkes) is a partner. This law firm will likely reap millions of dollars in fees in the province’s attempt to sue the tobacco industry for selling a legal substance that the province also taxed (you can tell I what I think of such lawsuits). Ms. Redford and her party have tried to state that Ms. Redford worked within the rules, and that there was a committee you made the recommendation and even to say that the final decision was made by her successor as justice minister. But the fact is that while she was justice minister, she was the head of the team that decided that the province should pay her friend and ex-husband, via his partnership in the law firm. They have also tried to hide behind the letter of the regulation that does not call out ex-spouses, only current spouses and family members. But Hawkes was a close friend of Ms. Redford as well. He was a key member of her transition team when she became Premier. Of all the wrong doing in the Alberta government, this one is most heinous because it shows the contempt that Alison Redford has for the people of Alberta and their tax dollars. She thinks that if the rules are written carefully and she dances around the edges of said rules she is “clean” and cannot be accused of breaking the law then she is ok. I would argue that she may very well be right that no one could prosecute in the courts – but the impression of a conflict of interest here is more serious than the silly fiasco Rob Ford got himself into over a few thousand dollars.
To conclude, I agree with the WIldrose and NDP MLAs who have called for Ms. Redford to step aside. She should resign and the PCs should find a new leader. Further, following the announcement just months after re-election that they have changed their minds about government spending and think debt financing of capital projects is a good idea (let’s push off the payment to a future government, eh?) a new election where such items are up for debate should be called. But let’s fix the political financing rules first…