Funding questions dog cabinet on local tour

Red Deerians had their pick of Progressive Conservative cabinet ministers and MLAs to talk to during the Tory cabinet tour stop on Tuesday night.

Red Deerians had their pick of Progressive Conservative cabinet ministers and MLAs to talk to during the Tory cabinet tour stop on Tuesday night.

Premier Alison Redford has to call an election between March 1 and May 31 under new legislation and cabinet ministers have fanned out across the province this week to meet with Albertans.

On Tuesday, the public drop-in event at the Sheraton Hotel was hosted by Minister of Enterprise and Deputy Premier Doug Horner, Minister of Advanced Education and Technology Greg Weadick, Minister of Intergovernmental, International and Aboriginal Relations Cal Dallas, Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Luke Ouellette, and Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ray Prins.

Some people who came out said they wanted to learn more about the new leader and her still-fresh cabinet.

“I’m just interested in meeting them and becoming familiar with where they’re coming from. Election is on the way,” said John Maddison at the two-hour event where about 50 people had gathered by 5:30 p.m.

Maddison said he moved to Red Deer six months ago and was a PC party member in northern Alberta.

“I just want to make sure they know people like me are interested to see what is going on.”

Iain Younger said he wanted a better look at the PC cabinet.

“This is an interesting province. Every 40 years we’re supposed to change the government, you know. Forty years is up,” said Younger who predicted a conservative change in government.

“There’s another lady politician, isn’t there, in the wings,” the senior said about Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith.

As the cabinet tour got underway this week, more claims of improper donations to the PC party from public coffers were made public.

On Monday, Alberta Liberals alleged PDD Central Alberta Community Board allocated some of its operational funding to reimburse board members for attending a premier’s fundraising dinner in 2005.

Members were told to submit honorarium claims for attending the dinner according to board’s minutes from August 23, 2005.

Liberal MLA Harry Chase, official opposition seniors and PDD critic, said taxpayers’ money was supposed to help persons with development disabilities, not the PC party.

Government funding for PDD has been slashed in recent years and “every penny of that service provision money counts,” Chase said.

Ron Crossley, chair of PDD Central Alberta Community Board, said nobody was reimbursed for purchasing tickets to the premier’s dinner.

“The individuals who would have gone to that particular event would have been entitled to an honorarium. It’s just part of their job to do community involvement, community engagement,” Crossley said.

“We certainly don’t condone the use of taxpayers’ dollars to go to any kind of partisan function. It’s certainly not our current practice.”

He said as of August 2007, the board no longer sponsored board members or staff to attend the premier’s dinner.

Chase said surely people can communicate with others in their city, region or province without having to attend such “a razzmatazz event” as the premier’s dinner.

“I don’t see Hollywood events, in between the first and second courses, being the best opportunity to put forward concerns you have.”

Jablonski said she has been assured that reimbursement for attending premier’s dinners is no longer happening at PDD.

“That may have been old-style politics. Now we know that the taxpayer is very aware of where their money is going and it should be going in the right places and that is not the right place,” Jablonski said.

Chase said improper donations to the PC party have occurred as recently as 2010, according records that show the Tories received money from Calgary Laboratory Services, a subsidiary of Alberta Health Services.

And now the government is spending money on a cabinet tour, he said.

“This latest ‘business as usual tour’ on the taxpayers’ dime just prior to an election as opposed to taking the pulse of individuals throughout the year, it’s rather brazen.”

szielinski@www.reddeeradvocate.com