Alberta Politics

why don’t i feel outraged about the illegal donations scandal?

I feel like I should be outraged about recent allegations that Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives have received thousands of dollars in illegal donations from municipalities and public institutions including the University of Lethbridge, but I am not.

Under elections finance legislation in Alberta, it is illegal for these entities to make financial contributions to a political party.

Perhaps it is the ingrained institutionalism of the Progressive Conservative Association as Alberta’s governing party for more than 40 years that has made these types of allegations seem unsurprising and feel normal. Is this just how municipalities and public institutions do business in a virtual one-party state like Alberta?

I offer three thoughts on this issue:

1) If laws were broken, then those laws need to be enforced and mechanisms need to be created so that these laws are not broken again.

2) These illegal donations were not collected in desperation. The PCs did not need this money. In 2010, the governing party raised more than $3 million, which is twice that of the closest opposition party (the Wildrose Party). I have the impression that some of these financial contributions were solicited and collected by local volunteers, most whom may have unknowingly broken the law (…because this is they way business has always been done in Alberta).

3) Will it stick? CBC reporter Charles Rusnell broke this story and has been producing some excellent investigative journalism, but I am skeptical if this will be an issue that will seriously hurt Alison Redford‘s PCs in the upcoming general election.

Alberta’s opposition parties are skilled at generating angry and outraged media releases, but proving to Albertans that they are fit to govern is a completely different challenge.

25 replies on “why don’t i feel outraged about the illegal donations scandal?”

I’m disappointed Dave that illegal political activities don’t make you “angry”. It does me, especially when the laws the PCs themselves set-up ensure that the investigations are done privately and out of the public eye.

Its attitude like yours that keep the PCs getting elected again and again because we’re all so accustomed to political pork.

You may be right, but perhaps the Wildrose Party’s righteous indignation will affect enough people to see that NOT being angry at this is a mistake.

When municipalities pay and universities donate to a political party… it comes from taxpayer money and tuition. That’s so wrong… that it shouldn’t have to be pointed out as illegal.

Albertans and our institutions somehow have come to feel that supporting the PCs is a necessary part of doing business. It seems a lot like a sort of mob-protection-money deal. “If yaz payz us… yaz gonna be protected.”

Just part of doing business in New Jersey… oh… I mean Alberta.

They will get off, because the people doing the investigating are Tory political appointees too!
Towns, cities, MD’s, schools and others make these donations not because the Tories need the money, it is a “pledge” of loyalty and complicity between the Party and the people making the donation. You make the symbolic illegal payment, and you are part of the special Tory club. Its like being a “made” man in the mafia. It is pathetic, and it certainly makes me angry. So much so, I am going to help take out a Tory in this next election!

Perhaps it’s because most people have much bigger concerns on their minds that affect their day to day lives more directly than this.

Nice try Darren. This is a question of trust, and if the government is not trustworthy it affects day to day life a lot. The government runs the province like a criminal racket? I guess this is not news to you, but to lots of Albertans this does make them feel angry.

RD, am I correct to assume your income does not directly come from the resource industry? (even though if you’re a teacher, doctor, retail worker, etc, it does indirectly)
We live in a province that relies predominantly on the oil and gas industry – royalties and the income taxes paid by those who work in that industry – to provide most government funding. We are a landlocked jurisdiction where two major projects that would increase our exports are being blocked. The price our product is at the mercy of global influences which are out of our control. Everyone is waiting for the European shoe to drop.
If anything, money donated by municipalities and public institutions might get some people miffed at those organizations, where some might suggest that if they’ve got money to donate to political parties, then maybe they’ve got extra money that could be cut to reduce the overall provincial budget, which is unsustainably high.

Wow Darren….you take a very simply issue of taxpayer funded kickbacks and turn it into a geopolitical economic discussion?

The point is simple…The PCs are corrupt….lots of people are outraged over it…some, surprisingly like Dave, aren’t and make excuses for the illegal behavior.

The point of Dave’s post was the government was doing something and no one seems to be too upset about it. My point was that people tend to be concerned about things that directly affect them and there are some real concerns right now for people whose livelihoods directly depend on the oil and gas industry and are impacted by geopolitical economic developments.

I think another problem is that the people doing the donating are the most culpable in many people’s eyes. It is the Municipal Manager who should not be using the public purse to donate to a political party.

That being said – the rules from Election Alberta do put an onus on the political party not to accept those donations. However, if someone gives you a credit card with their name on it to buy tickets to an event – you don’t always know if it is their personal card or if it is their business credit card.

If someone cuts a cheque and then applies for reimbursement from the town afterwards, the volunteer taking the cheque and selling the tickets has no knowledge of wrongdoing.

I am sure not all instances were as innocent as the examples I mentioned above – but not every error done by political party voluneteers is intentional and maliscious.

Good points @Colin. I know for a fact that all parties and constituency associations return money when they find out they have accepted it in error, and I would suggest the vast majority of these things are errors. You also seem to be the only one in this thread advocating personal responsibility, while the rest of the posters apparently want to blame the PCs for everything (those EVIL BASTARDS). Face it people, if you are using a corporate credit card or applying for reimbursement for an expense, it is incumbent upon YOU to know whether it is legal. Would you blame a prostitute (yes, it’s an extreme example) for accepting a credit card for services rendered when that card should not have been used? No, you would rightfully blame the scumbag who used the prostitute’s services. This is no different. party staff and volunteers cannot read peoples’ minds or guess their intentions. therefore it is good to have the parties audit their own donations, with a check by the Chief Electoral Officer. By the way, there has been a lot of talk about previous matters that were referred to Alberta Justice for investigation and prosecution. Nothing happened. The reason nothing happened was that real lawyers didn’t think they could get a conviction – not that there was political interference. Most people also seem to assume that all those cases referred for investigation were PC donations. Why? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that at least one other party was investigated.

One final point. I got a great deal of amusement from a certain WA supporter’s blog post today, entitled “Guilty until proven innocent.” Oddly, most of the WA Twitterati seem to be applying that mantra to the PCs. I’d suggest they might want to tone down the rhetoric – not so sure they are lily white either. But I’m going to assume they are “innocent until proven guilty.”


If your government is corrupt, and is using your tax payer dollars to remain in power, not much else matters.

Here is an example how a municipality can inadvertly make a donation. Throughout the year, Mayor and Council can be invited to many functions that require a fee to be paid. For example a local Chamber of Commerce can host a luncheon with some speakers and the cost is $40 bucks. Since there is an expectation that some members of council be present, most councils have some type of budget so they can purchase these tickets. Seems fair doesn’t it? Now lets say you get invited a function by your MLA. There will be some speakers. The cost is $40. There is an expectation that members of council be present. All of a sudden you have broken a law because of the $40 bucks charged, $20 of it was going to the expenses and $20 was party fundraising. See how easy it would be for an honest mistake to be made? I am fortunate that the one time members of my council tried to purchase the tickets the volunteer who organizing the event was knowledgable enough to explain the function and prevent any wrong doing.

Bob…check out the Calgary Editorial issue on this…they also come outright and state it is illegal actions. Taxpayer money went straight from municipalities to the PC party. That is illegal. That is end of story.

2) These illegal donations were not collected in desperation.

No they weren’t. They were made to curry favor with the local association and MLA.

@Dave, that’s bullshit. Plain and simple. It may have gone to a PC constitutency association, accepted by a volunteer who didn’t know better, but the Party (i.e., the central office in Edmonton or the satellite office in Calgary) would never have accepted a cheque from a municipality. They get orders for tickets from prohibited entities all the time and they send them back every time. Do you honestly think an entity that raises $3 million a year would jeopardize that over a few hundred bucks? If you do, then you are simple. You, and the “Calgary Editorial” (do you mean the Herald) need to learn the intricacies of the entity to which you are referring. There is the Party, and there are 83 (or 87 if all founding meetings have been held) constituency associations. It is not a monolithic organization, but a large number of volunteer fiefdoms that reluctantly (very) report to a central office with a small paid staff that is responsible for doing a lot of stuff. Much as you would like it to be true, apparently, PCAA is not a huge well-oiled machine. Mistakes do get made, but they get caught, if the paper trail is there. I just wonder how you think the PC office can catch something wrong when some guy uses a credit card to buy a ticket and then expenses it to his prohibited entity. PCAA doesn’t have access to the accounting records of those entities. It’s definitely wrong, and if PCAA KNOWS ABOUT IT, they FIX IT (and the same is true, I am absolutely sure, of every other Party). I’m not sure it’s illegal on anyone’s part, unless the person buying the ticket knows he’s not supposed to get reimbursed. Anyway, I could go on and on, but it’s pretty clear that most Albertans have way more common sense than to believe there is a grand scheme to illegally solicit small amounts of money from municipalities. Even a moron knows the risk is way out of proportion to the reward.

Thank goodness Bob clears the air about illegal donations to the PC Party: “you are simple”, “Even a moron knows” says Bob.
Well it is simple how they do it, the question is how to stop it!

Bob: It’s the culture of corruption that the PCs have created. It’s a informal system of money coming in the front door from the smiling, cheque wielding PC MLA and a small token of appreciation returned to the PC MLA coming in the back courtesy of the grateful town. Many of the people attend because the PCs illegally solicit the donations because of an invite that goes directly to the town.

As for your insults: keep ’em coming. Personal insults are the surest sign that someone has lost a debate and have nothing else to offer.

@small town mayor: If the PCs are mixing government business with PC fundraising, that’s not a case of “inadvertently breaking the law” by municipalities – it’s a case of the PCAA misleading a civic official, however unintentionally. MLAs hosting civic officials to talk government business is separate from MLAs hosting fundraisers, and they have to happen separately. If they’re not happening separately, it’s incumbent on the political party in question to clarify that for their guests. One is government business, and expected to come out of public coffers. The other is political fundraising, and subject to Elections Alberta laws, and Elections Alberta is clear that a party may NOT solicit those funds. In other words, they’re not even supposed to invite the mayors of things to party fundraisers. Private citizen who also happens to be Mayor? Fine. Mail sent to Mayor’s office and addressed to Mayor Moustache? Solicitation of a civic official, and quite clearly illegal.

Ah, @Dave. I didn’t actually insult you (not intentionally, anyway). I said if you believe a certain thing, you are simple. But I don’t really think you believe that certain thing. I think you’re pretending to be outraged because you have a political agenda. That’s okay, but don’t be offended when someone calls you on it. And the last sentence didn’t refer to anyone. So, if you’re insulted, to quote a prof I had in university, it’s because you choose to be insulted. As for an invitation that goes directly to a town, it probably happens, but again, who do you think sends those invitations? Volunteers, of course. God knows MLAs don’t do any of the grunt work to raise $. So, yes, technically illegal, but unlikely that the volunteer knew it. And trust me, it happens in every Party. So, feel free to believe I lost the debate, if it makes you feel better. If this amounts to anything more than a tempest in a teacup, I’ll run around telling the world @Dave is the smartest anonymous guy I never met on Daveberta’s blog.

Bob: Hurling insults but not insulted…again, hurl away.

Illegal political fundraising by our government party and I don’t have the right to be outraged? Sorry, not in my world of ethics. And for you to seriously believe the MLAs aren’t in the loop clearly shows who has the political agenda backing them up.

Ray Danyluk absolutely was aware. He just ignored it.

Like many things, once it’s established what exactly happened, the more important question will be asked: When did they know, and what did they do about it? The answer will be ” long before it was reported, and nothing.”

It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.

And yet, Bob’s right. All we’re talking about is a few hundred dollars given or taken by people who didn’t know the source, or didn’t know it was illegal. That’s probably exactly what happened. But the problem is that this feature of our political system -that people operating parties don’t have enough motivation to know or respect what few measly political finance laws we have- is what’s called incumbent-entrenching. Which is about the worst thing that you can say about a system in a democracy. The whole point of democracy is that there is accountability to voters. Incumbent-entrenching systems defeat that point.

So the problem is not that the system was not followed. The problem is that the system is built not to be followed, and the government doesn’t want it any other way.

Only in Alberta, with its monolithic political culture, would there be any need to demonstrate that this sort of thing is wrong, wrong, wrong. The issue here is the pervasive infiltration of the PC party and its activities in every aspect of public affairs in this province. The “Chinese wall” that exists between Government and governing party in every other jurisdiction in Canada simply does not exist here (or at least is more porous than a chain-link fence).

Can you imagine the outrage if, for example, the council of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia or Kitchener, Ontario were to use municipal taxpayer dollars to make contributions to the Nova Scotia NDP or Ontario Liberals?

All of this is due to the overbearing influence and necessity of private money funding a public good, as opposed to having public money funding the democratic process.

Given the fact that there is a wide disparity in income and wealth in this province and this country, and that the prevailing attitude is that “he who pays the piper calls the tune”, it seems obvious, to me at least, that political donations to private entities (parties) are inherently anti-democratic. I’m NOT saying they’re illegal, but they do not begin to approach democratic ideals.

The political process must be funded, of course, but since it is a public good, it makes sense that it is paid for from the public purse in its entirety, in accordance with criteria yet to be established. One could base funding on the number of people in a constituency, and then modify that funding by things like average income in that constituency, cost of living and doing business in that constituency, proportion of voter turnout, proportion of votes gained, etc.

I could go on and on, but this isn’t the forum for that. My main point is that the funding of the political process is flawed to begin with, so it’s not all that surprising that people are alienated from the process, and not outraged when something goes wrong.

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