Wildrose MLA challenges secrecy on prohibited donations
Town and County of St. Paul pay administrative penalties
Elections Alberta has fined several groups that made illegal donations to political parties, including the County and Town of St. Paul, but it can not release key details about these offences, a lack of transparency which local Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw criticized.
The previous chief electoral officer had made 90 recommendations on how to make election laws more open and transparent, he noted, saying of the government’s approach to transparency, “They know how to do it, they just have to do it.”
In July, Elections Alberta announced that its Chief Electoral Officer Brian Fjeldheim had finished reviewing 71 cases of alleged inappropriate contributions from taxpayer-funded schools, municipalities and other groups that are not allowed to give money to political parties. A total of 37 groups faced administrative penalties, while others were given warnings.
Among those fined were the County and Town of St. Paul, which it came out in October of 2011 were among several groups that had made prohibited donations to the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. The County of St. Paul paid a $386.25 administrative penalty, according to CAO Sheila Kitz.
The Wildrose party submitted a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) request to the Town of St. Paul, which showed that from 2005 to 2011, the town had made $3,875 in donations to the PC party. The PC party did return a $500 cheque from 2011 to the town, after the news broke of illegal donations being made to the PC Party.
This August, when the Wildrose sought out information from the Town of St. Paul if it paid any fines to Elections Alberta, the town responded it did not have to disclose this information, as per exemption 41D of the FOIP act.
“We checked with Elections Alberta and we don’t have to share that with anybody,” confirmed Town of St. Paul CAO Ron Boisvert. When asked for the reasoning behind not sharing the information, he said, “If we don’t have to disclose it, we don’t.”
In a call from the Journal to Mayor Glenn Andersen, Andersen said the fact of the prohibited contributions had already been made public and the Town of St. Paul had “moved on.”
He added, “I see no benefit to releasing the information except for political gain of one party over another.” However, after receiving the query from the Journal, Andersen said that the town would release the information and Boisvert confirmed the town received an administrative penalty of $987.50. Both he and Andersen stated they hoped the ongoing matter would now be closed.
“The issue with this is that it wouldn’t take the pressure from the media to actually dig this type of information up,” said Saskiw. He questioned how and why specific information could not be made public when it was the Town of St. Paul ratepayers that must pay the penalty for the town making prohibited contributions.
He further stated that all monies from illegal donations should be returned, and those responsible for contributing money illegally should be the ones that face the fines
“In this case, St. Paul taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay fines for illegal donations that were made and approved by Mayor Glenn Andersen and the CAO,” he said.
Provincial election laws, passed in 2010, prevent Elections Alberta from sharing information such as who made donations, which political parties benefited from the illegal donations, how much was donated or how much was paid in fines. “The Wildrose is pushing that legislation be amended, because in any modem democracy that I know, people who violate elections laws and make illegal donations, (the information is) made open to the public,” Saskiw said.
Josh Stewart, press secretary to Alberta’s minister of justice, stated that the changes were made based on recommendations by the former chief electoral officer to keep investigations confidential. When asked about why, after the investigation is complete, more information could not be released, Stewart said this was due to “interpretation” on the way the act was written. The department has contacted the current chief electoral officer and asked him to submit any recommendations he had on the interpretations “so we could clear up the problem with that. He’s in the process of making those recommendations.”
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