Compared to last week’s explosion of political activity in the Assembly, the second week of the fall sitting has been pretty mundane.
The Office of the Ethics Commissioner released MLA financial disclosure forms this week. The majorit of the 83 forms were boring one or two page documents listing MLAs banks and pensions plans, and some the forms also prompted MLAs to disclose gifts that they have received over the past year.
Like many jobs, being an MLA comes with some perks. I do not have a problem with MLAs taking advantage of some of these perks, but it is a matter of judging whether accepting the gifts would put the MLA into a conflict of interest. A ticket to a sporting event or concert might fly under the radar, but an extravagant golfing or fishing vacation begins to present some larger image and integrity issues. While there is nothing scandalous in these disclosures and some of these gifts may seem small on the surface, Albertans should pay attention to who is wooing their elected officials.
Finance Minister Ted Morton was living life to the fullest when he accepted invitations to go Salmon fishing and golfing in British Columbia with wealthy businessman Fred Mannix (Former Premier Peter Lougheed severed as General Council to the Mannix Corporation before entering politics). Not to be outdone, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky also accepted a golfing vacation in Victoria, BC as a gift from Telus.
It is a mystery to me why Hemisphere Engineering decided to pay room and board for Edmonton-Calder Tory backbencher Doug Elniski to fish for Salmon in Campbell River, BC, but they did. Hemisphere Engineering donated over $27,000 to the PC Party and candidates in 2008 and over $18,000 to the PC Party and constituency associations in 2009.
The disclosure forms also revealed that one Edmonton Tory MLA had neglected to pay his property taxes on four rental properties that he owned. When questioned by the media, classy Carl Benito, the backbench Tory MLA from Edmonton-Mill Woods, actually put the blame on his wife for not having paid rent on his four rental properties. According to Mr. Benito, even though he filed his disclosure forms (including the part admitting he was behind on his property taxes), he still blamed his wife for not paying them until today.
This is not the first story we have heard from this backbencher. Mr. Benito was in the media spotlight earlier this year when it was revealed that he had no intention to fulfill a campaign promise to donate his entire MLA salary to scholarships for students in his constituency. I am sure that some people in the PC Party are eager to hit the “eject” button on this embarrassing backbench MLA.
Showing some seriously questionable taste in music, it was also revealed that Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk was gifted two tickets to a recent Lady Gaga concert by Edmonton Northlands and that Education Minister Dave Hancock was gifted two tickets to a Rod Stewart concert by AltaLink. I tweeted to Minister Hancock yesterday asking what his favorite Rod Stewart song was. I did not get a response, so this is for you, Minister.