Taxpayers' group says constituency allowances shouldn't fund sport, charities

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Nova Scotia's political spending scandal has a national citizens' advocacy group questioning the use of constituency allowances as charitable donations to individuals and community organizations

Scott Hennig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said Tuesday it's not appropriate for politicians to effectively act as an arm of government by "funding their own programs."

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's political spending scandal has a national citizens' advocacy group questioning the use of constituency allowances as charitable donations to individuals and community organizations

Scott Hennig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said Tuesday it's not appropriate for politicians to effectively act as an arm of government by "funding their own programs."

Hennig, the organization's national communications manager, said in an interview that expense allowances should be used to set up and run constituency offices so members can act as the public's "conduit to government."

"In the other case, you are acting as the government creating a program ... that in most cases is not in place and perhaps for good reason," he said.

Hennig said the practice is more widespread across the country than it should be at all political levels.

He believes politicians have created expectations among community groups that see members' donations through advertising and charities as a continuing source of funding.

He wonders whether it creates the impression that fundraising is unnecessary.

"Either government or the groups themselves should be funding through other means," Hennig said. "It's certainly simpler to ask a politician to cut you a cheque than to go out and do the hard work of selling tickets or raising funds ... and that's a problem."

Hennig added he has no problem with politicians promoting their work through the distribution of Canadian or provincial flags or similar souvenirs.

"It's a bit more appropriate than something that has the member's name or picture or something they are going to have direct electoral benefit from," he said.

Hennig added that as the practice becomes "entrenched," an entitlement is created that becomes difficult to eliminate.

Although not condemned outright, the practice was singled out as part of the problem around questionable spending and murky expense guidelines in a recent report by Nova Scotia's auditor general.

Jacques Lapointe found the amounts spent on advertising from members' receiptable constituency expenditures ranged from as low as 13 per cent to as high as 85 per cent.

He said methods used for advertising varied from the use of traditional media such as newspapers to donations to organizations and individuals.

Lapointe concluded that current practices in Nova Scotia allowed "unlimited flexibility" in how money was spent and he recommended bringing in tighter rules.

At $52,066 in total receipts, Energy Minister Bill Estabrooks was among the higher spenders with $44,424 of that amount going towards media advertising, donations and gifts.

Estabrooks sees no problem using his money to fund school programs and sports teams in exchange for seeing some players run around with "Bill MLA" on their backs.

He said it's an effective way to make a difference in his community.

"I think it's ethical," he said. "I think it's an efficient way for me to get some advertising ... but it also helps my community."

Estabrooks, a former school principal, said it's a natural fit for him.

"I've never made any apologies about the fact that I want to help out the schools and I want to help out the athletic teams in my community - that's my background."

said Estabrooks.

By contrast, rookie Liberal member Andrew Younger concedes there is a legitimate question around using money meant for the operation of a constituency for donations.

He said there is no question the rules have to be reviewed.

But like Hennig, he said a public expectation has been created where individuals or organizations in need of support expect they can get it at their local constituency office.

"There's a lot of community groups that have come to rely on it, as community support has decreased over the years," said Younger. "Absolutely, the community has to decide whether they want that to continue."

Geographic location: Nova Scotia

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Recent comments

  • James
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Referring to the business-funded, right-wing Canadian Taxpayers Federation as ''a national citizens' advocacy group,'' is a bit like calling PETA a Newfoundlanders advocacy group. They no more speak for me than the National Citizen's Coalitiion or Stormfront.

  • Mark
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    Much as I can's agree with 98% of what the CTF purports to stand for, on this point they are right. I'm happy to see taxpayers' money go to community groups, but it shouldn't come from politicians' constituency allowances. That's vote buying. Plain and simple. Sitting politicians should not able to use their taxpayer funded allowances to spend money in a blatant effort to curry favour with the electorate. It's just plain wrong.

  • Anne
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Hey Mr Estabrooks, If YOU want to sponser a sports team then do it YOURSELF with your own cash. Don't decide for the taxpayers where their money is going. And sign your name to the kids' backs. Ridiculous. WAKE UP PEOPLE, the more idiodic things these pols feed you, the chances are you will believe at least a little part of it. That is what they are betting on.

  • James
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Referring to the business-funded, right-wing Canadian Taxpayers Federation as ''a national citizens' advocacy group,'' is a bit like calling PETA a Newfoundlanders advocacy group. They no more speak for me than the National Citizen's Coalitiion or Stormfront.

  • Mark
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    Much as I can's agree with 98% of what the CTF purports to stand for, on this point they are right. I'm happy to see taxpayers' money go to community groups, but it shouldn't come from politicians' constituency allowances. That's vote buying. Plain and simple. Sitting politicians should not able to use their taxpayer funded allowances to spend money in a blatant effort to curry favour with the electorate. It's just plain wrong.

  • Anne
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    Hey Mr Estabrooks, If YOU want to sponser a sports team then do it YOURSELF with your own cash. Don't decide for the taxpayers where their money is going. And sign your name to the kids' backs. Ridiculous. WAKE UP PEOPLE, the more idiodic things these pols feed you, the chances are you will believe at least a little part of it. That is what they are betting on.