Candidates must declare finances, not hide

June 10, 2009

Behind closed doors, federal MPs approved a plan that will allow politicians to create massive war chests filled with undeclared money as a means of getting around current election finance legislation.

Members of Parliament will be exempt from publicly declaring cash and benefits received from political parties and riding associations after a Commons committee recently approved amendments behind closed doors, the Canadian Press reported Sunday.

Instead of providing more accountability and transparency, the new rules, approved by all four parties, avoid conflict of interest legislation. Currently the rules say any gifts or benefits at a value of more than $500 must be declared on a public registry maintained by the ethics commissioner.

This means there is no limit on the money or goods and services that MPs may receive, such as registration fees, travel expenses, hospitality to members for their participation at political events.

Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson said in an interview, the changes could mean MP could build up campaign war chests under the radar between elections. This was something banned under reforms made in 2003 with the elimination of blind trusts in riding associations.

It could also lead to the type of financial abuse now seen in Britain, where parliamentarians have been recklessly spending money on personal expenditures, as well as major abuses of taxpayers’ money.

Canadian MPs have defended the secrecy saying they wanted to discuss personal experiences with the conflict code.

Northumberland MP Rick Norlock needs to come clean in public over this issue.  Ignorance is no excuse. Nothing less than a full condemnation should be acceptable to county voters.  His riding association and the financial officer for the local association must make it clear there is no war chest being built for the next election. Full and open disclosure is the only responsible act in this case. Otherwise, we can only assume he is taking advantage of this new loophole.

Other riding associations must do the same. Since all four parties agreed with this, the local officers must provide full disclosure to remove any taint. This must be done immediately and regularly until this new rule is changed.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s government passed Bill C-24, which limited corporate donations to local riding associations to $1,000 and set a ceiling of $5,000 per year on individual donations to federal parties. There were concerns at the time; the legislation was too complex and susceptible to deception. It would appear MPs have found a way to deceive the public.

There is plenty of talk swirling around a possible federal election sooner rather than later. The concerns over riding association finances and Norlock’s position on the activities of this secret deal behind closed door must be answered now. Fluffing this off as a mere annoyance demonstrates the longstanding distain the Conservatives show towards voters. However, their arrogance will be met with the sting at the ballot box if something is not done.

Northumberland voters have good memories and not much patience for this kind of belligerence.

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