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City tax dollars used for Sask. Party, NDP political dinners

Regina, Swift Current, North Battleford, Estevan and Birch Hills listed in documents
Reported by Patrick Book
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Regina and some other Saskatchewan cities' taxpayer dollars are being used to get city councillors and public library board members into political dinners held by the Saskatchewan Party and the NDP.

At least $5,000 has been spent over the last five years by Regina city council members and/or the mayor. They have been present for at least one dinner in each of those years. The tickets are paid for using money from the travel and communications budgets that are provided to those elected officials every year.

The spending came to light in the fiscal return documents filed with Elections Saskatchewan.  All political parties in Saskatchewan are required to list corporations that buy tickets to those dinners as party donors because those events essentially function as fundraisers.

Tallies from 2006 to 2010 are available through Elections Saskatchewan's website. They show that public institutions frequently attend those meetings with the taxpayers being handed the bill.

It's something Mayor Pat Fiacco has no problem with.

"I think the public expects city council to establish good, positive relationships with both the government and the opposition," he said in a recent phone interview from San Francisco.

"There's some great information that's shared at those dinners and I think it's important for us to attend. What it is is mutual respect and we have an obligation to build that relationship with both government and opposition."

He argues the political landscape has changed over time.  Council is no longer expected to just attend minor events and make minor decisions. He says important information is revealed at these dinners and it's important to stay in the loop.

But he concedes some might disagree.

"Everyone does it differently. Who knows, maybe the next mayor will say 'We're not going to do that,' and that's fine."

Other cities have attended in recent years as well. The City of Swift Current is listed as having donated $852 to the Sask. Party in 2010, the last year for which numbers are available. The City of North Battleford is down for a $640 donation and the Town of Birch Hills is as well, for $756. In 2009 the City of Estevan donated $470.64 to the Sask. Party as well. The Universities of Regina and Saskatoon are also frequent contributors as well.

But there is a distinction drawn in Saskatoon. The City Clerk's in Saskatoon there tells us that the City doesn't provide the same kind of financial allowance that Regina does. Councillors get travel reimbursed when they attend out-of-town conferences but if they want to attend such events, they must pay out of their own pockets.

For his part, Regina Public Library Director Jeff Barber confirms he and library board members routinely attend both party's dinners as well.

"They do attend political events sometimes, as do I actually but also any number of community events," said Barber.

Barber explains that's how he sees the leader's dinners -- as community events. He doesn't view the purchase of those tickets as a political gesture even though the ticket price ends up in a party's coffers.

"Political events are just like any other community event. The library board and the library generally are always trying to make connections with the community and has a lot of projects, has a lot of community connection as a part of its future-driven plans...always trying to be out, always trying to engage people at different events about library and about how they see the library and what they want for the library."

The Elections Saskatchewan documents show the Sask. Party receives such donations much more frequently than the NDP, while the Liberal party, the Green Party, and others rarely see corporate donations of any kind aside from the odd private business.

The New Democrats were chastised by the Chief Electoral Officer of the day back in 2007 because they had failed previously to file leader's dinner revenue as donations. Since then, the party insists it has not only filed them as such but also re-filed retroactively to ensure the numbers for previous years were correct. Elections Saskatchewan confirms that those figures have been filed properly since then.

Edited by CJME's Karen Brownlee.