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Say what? After 36 years, secret Alberta Tory slush fund comes to light

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So, there's this law in Alberta that allows the ruling Progressive Conservative Party to have a possibly huge and definitely secret slush fund, but makes it illegal for any other party to do the same thing.

What's more, the fund's been around for at least 36 years and no one's uttered a squeak of protest, presumably in the case of the public, the press and the opposition because they didn't know about it.

Since 1977, it's also been illegal for any other party to have a similar secret slush fund, but according to an expose in the National Post, the Tory version was grandfathered into the law, so it's OK. Moreover, since the Tory trust was exempted from election disclosure laws, the secret has only deepened.

You've got to be freaking' kidding, right? Well, apparently not. April 1 is behind us now, although that is the date on the Post's persuasively detailed account of the "Tapcal Trust," previously known as the "P.C. Bill 24 Trust" and the "Legislation Trust."

Anyway, this is Alberta, where we like to enshrine our political corruption with the notion that it's not corrupt if all the paperwork's been done properly. The laws for the rest of us, naturally, don't apply to the government and its friends.

Meanwhile, an orderly and properly conducted election is under way today in the province of Quebec, a jurisdiction that a surprising number of Albertans would associate with corruption. Perhaps we Albertans need to recalibrate our perceptions a little. I'm just saying'.

According to the Post, which did good work on this story, nobody knows how much money is in the trust -- least of all Elections Alberta, the provincial body charged with overseeing funds like this when they are the property of parties not assumed to be the natural government of Alberta.

The Post quoted an Elections Alberta official saying, "I don't know if there's $1 in there, $100 dollars or $1 million." Or, one supposes, $100 million, although the shrinking contributions from the fund to the party that were enumerated by the Post would suggest otherwise. Quoth the official: "It's something they have that other parties aren’t allowed to have, that's fair to say."

If, like Bill Moore-Kilgannon of the Public Interest Alberta advocacy group, you think the PCs -- whoever happens to be leading the party this week -- should disclose this fund like the law requires all the other parties to do, well, don't hold your breath.

Kelley Charlebois, the party's executive director, told the Post Alberta Tories don't talk about that kind of thing, thank you very much.

"If this wouldn't be allowed under current financial disclosure rules," said Moore-Kilgannon, "then they need to close this loophole and make sure that all parties are treated equally." D'ya think?

This may not add up to an ethically sound policy on the part of the PCs, but it might make some strategic sense from the party’s perspective -- whether the secret slush fund is empty or full. Although, that said, it could also have the unintended effect of making the opposition parties go hammer and tong raising more money on the theory the otherwise broke ruling party's slush fund is overflowing with cash.

How did this come to light just now? This is not entirely clear, but one supposes the fact a large number of former high PC mucky-mucks have decamped for the Opposition Wildrose Party, taking their insiders’ knowledge of party affairs with them, may have had something to do with it.

The fund has been around long enough, at any rate, that it can hardly be blamed on former premier Alison Redford, who will now get to carry the load, one senses, for a lot of Tory sins she had relatively little to do with as what's left of the PCs under Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock attempts to restore its virtual virtuous fig leaf.

No, the Tapcal Fund or whatever it is called originates in the fundamental belief of the Alberta Conservative elite -- given with their mothers' milk and nurtured through the 70 or so years of increasingly radical "conservative" rule we have endured in this one-party petro-state -- that the rules are for everyone else.

And what do you want to bet that it's not the only example of this kind of thing, either?

Which leads to another thought: In the days between the next Alberta election and the swearing in of the new government, someone had better have the paperwork drawn up and ready to file to stop the shredding that's bound to be going on at a feverish pitch in the offices of outgoing PC MLAs and ministers!

Might not hurt to have the fire department standing by either.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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