Opinion column by MLA Rick Strankman. FILE PHOTO

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

The controversy over the $322K budget deficit of the newly formed UCP caucus needs clarification.

The recent controversy over the $322,000 budget deficit of the newly formed United Conservative Party (UCP) caucus needs clarification. The budget deficit was created by previous Wildrose caucus leader Brian Jean who significantly overspent his financial allotment, knowing full well that the Wildrose caucus would be terminated before the budget year was finished.

Jean and certain others claim that there is no deficit. In order for one to exist, they say, the fiscal year would have to have been completed. But make no mistake, a deficit does exist.

Look at it this way: if you received $12,000 to rent a place to live for a year, you’d have $1,000 per month. If you deliberately decided to rent a place for $2,000 each month for the first four months, you’d have a budget deficit. You’d only have $500 per month for the last eight months. This is what Jean knowingly did.

Jean knew that as Wildrose caucus leader, he had only four months, and that the deficit or surplus he left at the end of those four months would be inherited by the new party, the UCP caucus. Now, because of Jean’s $300,000 plus deficit, MLAs in the UCP caucus are being asked to contribute money from their constituency budgets to make up the shortfall.

Caucus and constituency budgets are different. The purpose of the caucus budget is to pay for support staff, research, communications, and other necessities required by MLAs for their work inside the legislature. The purpose of the constituency budget is to cover costs that MLAs incur at the constituency level, including constituency staff and the cost of communicating directly with the men and women he or she represents.

You’ve probably heard the expression “Robbing Peter to pay Paul.” The term can be traced to a couple of churches in England, one called St. Peter’s and the other St. Paul’s. It’s a long story as to what actually happened, but the church diocese decided to take assets from Saint Peter’s, sell them, and used the money to pay for repairs to Saint Paul’s.

Essentially, that’s what’s happening here – robbing Saint Peter’s, the constituencies, to pay for repairs to Saint Paul’s, the caucus.

Jean created a caucus deficit by deliberately ignoring the fact that the caucus budget would terminate when the two parties merged. Responsibility for the shortfall rests squarely on his shoulders and those who made the decision to ramp up hiring and spending prior to the unity vote, leaving a huge hole in caucus resources and now it appears in constituency resources, which are supposed to be available for MLAs to work with their constituents.

This robbing Peter to pay Paul does not align with what most of us reasonably understand to be good representation and sound fiscal management. As a former member of the Wildrose caucus who deliberately and repeatedly sought clarification and accountability about caucus funds, I deeply regret the actions of certain of my colleagues, and the way that myself and others were hindered in our early requests for transparency and financial disclosure.

Constituents will be happy to know that the new UCP Opposition is staffed with those who believe that good representation and sound fiscal management are necessary to ensure that the legitimate needs of the electorate are put ahead of all else.

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