Sherman apologizes to Penhold for donation flap

Penhold Mayor Dennis Cooper was surprised to get an apology from Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman on Tuesday.

Penhold Mayor Dennis Cooper was surprised to get an apology from Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman on Tuesday.

Cooper is now satisfied that he’s made his point about how fact-checking should always be done before a municipality is publicly accused of illegally using taxpayer dollars to support a political party.

“When you attack a municipality, you are attacking the first level of government. You are attacking citizens and volunteers who are working for the betterment of a community,” said Cooper, who received a phone call from Sherman at about 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

The mayor had taken issue with a press release sent by the Alberta Liberal caucus on Monday, wrongly accusing his town of making a political contribution of $609 to the Innisfail Progressive Conservative Association. The release was titled Donationgate.

In fact, the money in question was just a repayment for some of the prepaid rent the local PC association had given the town for use of its facilities.

Cooper said the association ended up meeting in other spaces in the region, so the town was being reimbursed for unused rental costs.

The Alberta Liberals had initially wanted to review the town’s receipts as proof, but Cooper said Sherman came out with his apology without needing to see any paperwork.

“Mr. Sherman was very polite. He said, ‘We made a mistake,’ without having to see the receipts . . . I was honestly pleasantly surprised to get that kind of call from the leader of the (Alberta) Liberal party.”

Sherman, who was expected to put out a public release later on Tuesday, told Cooper he hopes to be able to apologize to Penhold town councillors in person at some point.

On Monday, the Liberal party’s communication director acknowledged that facts may not have been checked before the press release went out, but he pledged they would be in future.

Cooper realizes municipal councillors in various parts of Alberta have gotten into hot water for supporting political parties by buying tickets, for example, to fundraising dinners, then seeking reimbursement.

“In some cases, when (councillors) are invited to these dinners, they see it as a chance to promote the town,” he said. But even though their motives are promotional, rather than to support a political party, the law is clear, said Cooper.

He added “it’s too bad” some well meaning municipalities were in contravention of these rules.

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