‘This is corruption’ in County of Stettler

When governments use taxpayers’ money to explicitly campaign for a candidate running for political office, it’s fair to call it corrupt

By Derek Fildebrandt

Alberta director,

Canadian Taxpayers Federation

When governments use taxpayers’ money to explicitly campaign for a candidate running for political office, it’s fair to call it corrupt and undemocratic. According to documents provided to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, that is just what happened in at least one municipality during the last provincial election.

The documents reveal how at least one senior, taxpayer-paid, municipal employee in the County of Stettler used government time and resources to campaign for the re-election of now former MLA Jack Hayden.

In 106 pages of email exchanges, senior municipal employees received, and may have forwarded, nearly daily campaign updates from the PC Party campaign war room to their fellow municipal employees.

It’s clear these campaign emails ended up in county inboxes and that at least one senior staff member was working on the PC campaign.

One email exchange shows the County of Stettler director of communications, Shawna Benson, sharing a campaign Facebook page for PC candidate Jack Hayden that she had built.

“Our Facebook Page is now up and running…with an event for the Premier’s visit on Thursday going live shortly. Please .. go to the Facebook page if you have an account….And “like” it…!”

This email was sent from her county email address at 10:45 a.m. on a Tuesday.

In preparation for voting day, some county staff received this reminder: “The following bulletin includes some links on the PC Senate Candidates, and you might want to review this before the vote tomorrow. Let’s all focus on getting Jack Hayden supporters out to the polls.”

From what we already know, it’s fair to ask if these employees were planning on “getting Jack Hayden supporters out to the polls” on government time.

The County of Stettler didn’t just fund partisan campaigns with taxpayers’ money indirectly through the use of government employee’s time, but also directly with donations to the Progressive Conservative Party.

Between 2008 and 2010, the municipality forked over an average of $2,600 a year to the PC Party. The practice was discontinued soon after.

It would seem that in lieu of direct cash payments from the county, in-kind taxpayer “donations” would be made in the form of employee time and resources.

There needs to be consequences for this. To begin with, all County of Stettler employees who used taxpayer-funded, county resources or did campaign-related work on taxpayers’ dime should lose their jobs.

Elections Alberta also needs to investigate. Some employees were brazen in their willingness to openly campaign using taxpayers’ money, and showed no shame or moral compunction about it. With the names and email addresses of so many others blacked out, it would not be surprising if other county employees turned out to have been campaigning while on the clock, as well. Only a thorough investigation by authorities with the power to obtain the required information can ascertain just how extensive this practice was in Stettler.

Jack Hayden used to be a councillor and reeve for Stettler between 1998 and 2007. He was also the municipal affairs minister between 2008 and 2011. It’s no surprise that his friends at the municipality wanted to help him get re-elected. But they should have known better than to use county resources.

Jack Hayden was copied on 17 of these campaign emails between April 3 and April 21, 2012 — almost one a day. Presumably, he knew that at least one county employee was campaigning on taxpayers’ time. Did he make any attempt to stop the practice?

Elections Alberta has identified 44 municipalities and other government institutions that made “donations” to political parties in recent years, like Stettler. It’s fair to ask how many of these municipalities — like Stettler — “donated” staff time and resources to campaigns as well.

Funneling taxpayers’ money into partisan campaigns is not just wasteful and unethical, it undermines the integrity of our democratic institutions. Only an investigation and a few public examples of the consequences can clear the air.

Let’s call a spade a spade. This is corruption.

 

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