Accountability demands more than lip service
Democracy is right up there with molecular physics as a conversation killer. It’s just one of those things that make peoples’ eyes glaze over. We take it for granted until it is taken away.
Thankfully ours is a stable democracy, one not prone to the massive shifts and outside influences seen in places like Egypt. In our little corner of the world we like to boast about our democratic traditions. Heck, in 2014 we’re even holding a celebration built on PEI’s small role in the creation of Canada.
Democracy is not built on a single foundation. It is built on individual blocks that collectively form our democratic traditions such as the right to vote, the right to oppose, the right to move freely and the guarantee of government transparency.
It’s the guarantee of transparency that is nipping away at PEI’s democratic foundation. For the most part, it’s not because of specific intent by politicians. It’s because of ignorance by the political class who forget every action has an opposite reaction.
Every year political parties are legally obligated to file with Elections PEI, a complete list of donors contributing more than $250. It is dry, but compelling reading. It is a vital public check against abuse. Just look at the Canadian Senate to see what can happen when there are no rules or accountability to ensure politicians act in the public, not personal interest.
Invariably donor lists, especially for the governing party, are loaded with individuals or corporations that do, or want to do, significant business with government. Political parties contend there is no correlation. Common sense says there is.
In the past few years lists were routinely uploaded to the government website within days of June 1 rolling around.
That is not the case this year. Unless you walk into Elections PEI and plunk down $10 for each party list (more than it costs to produce the lists) you still would not know the Liberal Party raised $416,509 in 2012 or the PC Party managed to generate an anaemic $185,220.
You would not know that McInnes Cooper is the largest donor to both: $6,547 to the PCs, $8,768 to the Liberals, whose government threw significant new work to the legal firm last year. You would not know that Cox & Palmer is the second largest donor to both parties: $6,833 to the Liberals and $4,635 to the Tories. You would not know both lists are littered with consultants, professional services, contractors and political hangers on. You would not know there are a good number of individuals and corporations that donate to both.
So why is the list not easily accessible this year? Two reasons. First, Elections PEI is invoking a far too literal interpretation of the Elections Act written in 1996. The act was written at the infancy of the Internet when email was still new. There is no mention of the digital transfer of files, so Elections PEI has thrown common sense to the wind and arbitrarily decided it does not have the right to email party lists when requested. This, of course, is rubbish.
The second reason is government cutbacks. Elections PEI used to contract out web services. Now it’s forced to wait in the government queue until a specialist, already stretched because of government cutbacks, can build and launch a new website. (Although this doesn’t explain why the lists have not been uploaded to the current site, a technological no-brainer). The promise is the new website will be completed by July 15. We will wait and see.
In the greater scheme of things this is a not an earth shattering issue. But it defies all logic that the first place a complete list of political donations is widely available is on our website. It should upset every Islander when the Ghiz government believes it more important that taxpayers supply cars and executive assistants to ministers ahead of ensuring full, timely transparency into how our political parties are funded.
The same applies to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Government minions know that if they force an applicant into an appeal process they will effectively delay release of the information – regardless of how valid or important – for years.
There are files going back five years that the part-time
Commissioner has yet to rule on.
This is a flat out abuse of democracy. If the Ghiz government truly believes in transparency and public oversight it must increase the budget to operate FOIPP and increase, not decrease funding to Elections PEI.
Then there is Finance Minister Wes Sheridan. He ‘invested’ $4 million in a gaming company that produced the mega flop Geosweep for Atlantic Lottery. Only two of four provinces invested.
Unfortunately PEI is one of them.
The minister claims Islanders are not out money and have actually earned revenue from other games produced by the British company in other countries. But ask the minister to provide details and he hides behind a wall of privacy. Ask him to offer another example of PEI taxpayers investing millions of dollars in a corporation with zero presence in the province and the Finance Department goes silent. It’s of course classic Sheridan political BS. And he continues to get away with it.
As a province, when we allow blocks to be removed from the foundation of our democracy without challenge, we all lose, and our system becomes even more ripe for abuse.
You can view complete party donor lists at www.peicanada.com
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Liberal Party: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4_GX-Akowx4UzIySGF3ZjQ4RWs/edit
PC Party: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4_GX-Akowx4a0owZVkyTGhSVG8/edit
NDP Party: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4_GX-Akowx4SXItOVdVZHEyMVU/edit
Green Party: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4_GX-Akowx4NE9mMGVpT005Tlk/edit
Island Party: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4_GX-Akowx4X0Y1WC1rM0VXeVU/edit