Westlock County used public funds to back Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA Ken Kowalski for many years through sponsorship of a hole at his annual golf tournament.
This practice is illegal in the province and the county stopped sponsoring the event in 2010 after receiving information from the provincial government, said county CAO Edward LeBlanc.
“Based on information that we received from the province, it was not recommended to continue sponsoring those types of events,” he said. “That was not something specific to Mr. Kowalski’s golf tournament; we received some information from the province in terms of sponsorship of political events.”
It is illegal in Alberta to use public money for partisan politics, meaning the county budget, which is largely derived from taxes, is prohibited from being used to support a specific political party or representative.
The Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act states, “No prohibited corporation, person ordinarily resident outside Alberta or trade union or employee organization … shall make any contributions to a registered party, registered constituency association or registered candidate.”
Although he couldn’t say specifically, LeBlanc said he recalled a cost of $300 each year to sponsor the event, which allowed complimentary access into the tournament for two county representatives. He was unable to provide the exact cost by press time.
Reeve Charles Navratil said council was not aware that this act was illegal at the time of participation.
“It was public money and it was done,” he said. “When this come out that we couldn’t do it, that we shouldn’t, we quit it. We have councillors that still are involved with helping at the golf tournament for Ken Kowalski but it’s nothing to do with the county. It’s just strictly councillors on their own.”
He said that county council had a motion to support the local MLA, regardless of his or her political party, and had agreed to sponsor tournaments or events they were hosting.
When asked if the public money spent on the tournament would go back towards public initiatives, Navratil said he wasn’t sure how that would be possible.
Kowalski was unable to comment, however, a representative of his said that she was not aware of any public funds going towards sponsorship of the event.
“Over the years, they individually submitted applications but the county themselves, personally, to the best of my knowledge, has not,” said Bev Alenius, executive assistant. “They’ve done it on an et al basis, where (if) they’ve golfed in the golf tournament, they’ve provided personal dollars but not as a county.”
The organizers of the tournament do not investigate where funds come from, Alenius said, so the burden is on the participants to ensure they are allocating funds properly.
“If you wanted to come and golf and were going to give us a cheque for your golf, I probably would not say … where is this money coming from,” she said. “I’m 99 per cent sure that I wouldn’t as you where it was coming from.”
Kowalski faces another issue of receiving public funding in regards to the County of Barrhead’s payment to attend a Westlock dinner celebrating Kowalski’s 30 years as MLA in the area.
On July 21, 2009, county council approved spending $720 on 16 seats at the dinner, which would have each councillor and their spouse attend, as well as two county staff members.
According to the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, any amount under $50 is not considered a contribution, unless otherwise desired by the contributor. Since the County of Barrhead considered the $720 to be a $45 per person amount, it was not considered a contribution to the association, according to an Alberta Liberal Caucus FOIP request, which was provided to the Westlock News.
The $720 fee was paid for by the County of Barrhead No. 11 to the Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock PC Association on Aug. 18, 2009.
This issue comes in light of a controversy involving St. Paul’s CAO Ron Boisvert, who used his position to solicit votes for MLA Ray Danyluk during the recent Progressive Conservative leadership race by sending e-mails from his town account to several stakeholders in the community.
He also played a role in organizing a golf tournament to raise funds for the MLA, at the town’s expense of $500. Both activities are against provincial law.