Scheduling official business to coincide with Conservative party fund raisers

Ottawa Spending Scandal - A Case of Institutionalized Corruption

By —— Bio and Archives--June 17, 2008

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Thanks to widespread press coverage of the government spending scandal in Newfoundland and Labrador, with former provincial politicians and cabinet ministers winding their way through the courts for allegedly misusing constituency allowances, the report this week in the Toronto Star highlighting federal spending practices has a distinct ring of familiarity to it.

According to the news agency, federal Cabinet Ministers are making a practice of conveniently scheduling official business to coincide with Conservative party fund raisers and then claiming travel costs. The result: You and I pay for the expense out of our tax dollars while the Conservative Party of Canada reaps the benefit from the fund raising efforts.

The investigation highlights several trips made by a multiple Cabinet Ministers including Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn, Defense Minister Peter MacKay as well as Ministers Jim Prentice, Stockwell Day, Chuck Strahl and Gary Lunn.

This kind of misuse of taxpayer’s money is a familiar happening to the folks in Newfoundland and Labrador but that’s where the similarity ends.

As soon as the situation was uncovered in Newfoundland and Labrador the government’s top cabinet Minister was immediately fired, resignations were tendered, in both government and opposition ranks, a police investigation ensued and charges were laid. The reaction from the Harper government is simply to… well, actually there has been no reaction from the Harper government unless you count offhand comments from representatives who simply qualify their actions by saying, “… this is the way it has always been done and the Liberals did it too”.

Now that’s a novel defense. That one was tried in Newfoundland and Labrador as well. Court dates were still set.

The Prime Minister for his part appears to have lost his voice and is once again displaying an inability to make the “tough” decisions that need to be made by a responsible leader who has the best interests of constituents at heart rather than those of his party and political future.

For nearly two years Stephen Harper and Danny Williams have made no secret of how completely opposed to one another’s points of view they are. It seems that when it comes to the misappropriation of public funds their individual approaches are no different. One took the actions required to clean up government, the other, who ran on a platform of clean government, refuses to even awknowlege anything is wrong.

When elected officials spend countless thousands in tax dollars to attend party fund raisers it’s a situation that should raise the ire of all taxpayers, especially those who don’t support the party in question but who, through this backdoor practice, end up helping to fill party’s war chest.

The following Toronto Star excerpts speak volumes about the immoral and unethical practices taking place in Ottawa and being tacitly condoned by the Prime Minister.

The Star easily found 25 examples of Tory ministers mixing fundraising and department business, each trip typically costing taxpayers several thousand dollars.

The federal Conservatives – elected on promises to be squeaky clean – are using government resources to help fill their election war chest.

When Peter MacKay flew to British Columbia in January, he split his time between government business and two Tory fundraising gigs. Taxpayers footed the bill.

When then-Indian affairs minister Jim Prentice flew to Nova Scotia to meet with provincial chiefs, he headlined a Conservative fundraising dinner in Prince Edward Island. Taxpayers paid for the trip.

When Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn jetted off from a Quebec fisheries forum to attend a government meeting in Manitoba, he also guest-starred at a local Tory fundraising banquet.

Hearn was also in Nova Scotia and attended a fundraiser.

Total cost (for Hearn’s travels): about $5,500.

Stockwell Day (public safety); Chuck Strahl (Indian affairs) and Gary Lunn (natural resources) gave keynote speeches at the conference, and the theme was getting ready for the next election.

Strahl billed taxpayers about $5,000 for a five-day period that included the Tory conference. His expense report says he had “First Nations meetings” in Vancouver.

For the Conservative party, the trip cost nothing, though about $40,000 was raised in Victoria and Kelowna.

Lunn’s expense reports show a $10,000 expense for several trips in a short period, leading up to the conference, and ending in British Columbia.

His assistant, who typically travels with him, shows on her expense report a $5,000 bill to taxpayers for a five-day period that includes the three-day conference in Harrison Hot Springs.

Former Indian affairs minister Prentice, a Calgary MP who is now industry minister, travelled in February 2007 to Nova Scotia to take part in negotiations with Mi’kmaq chiefs in the province. He then attended a Conservative fundraising dinner in Malpeque, P.E.I. According to reports disclosed by the department, the total cost for Prentice and his political aide for the eastern trip was just under $7,000. A charter flight was included; the documents don’t explain the destination.

The regularity of these trips and the huge amount of money both expensed and raised, to help fill Conservative coffers, make the fridge magnet purchases and charitable donations of disgraced and criminally charged Newfoundland and Labrador politicians pale by comparison. 

When political mishandling of public money became known in Newfoundland and Labrador sweeping new spending controls were put in place. A full investigation was undertaken by the Auditor General and charges were laid. The position of the Newfoundland and Labrador government was clear, clean up the mess and let the chips fall where they may. Stephen Harper’s silence and total inaction over Ottawa’s misuse of public funds is clear indicator of his government’s position.

In the first quarter of 2008, the Conservative party has raised $5 million – outstripping both the Liberals and NDP with a dollar ratio of about five to one.

Myles Higgins -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Myles Higgins is freelance columnist and writes for Web Talk - Newfoundland and Labrador
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