The Liberal party is targeting Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall as they accuse the NDP of diverting local constituency dollars into what they call a central partisan slush fund.
“It is not a slush fund,” says Mungall. “That is a liberal spin word. It’s an accrual account.”
The Liberals are referring to an Auditor General report saying the NDP participated in a scheme that saw over $460,000 intended to serve local constituents throughout the province funneled into a central partisan fund. Legislature rules specifically prohibit the use of constituency funds for political use.
The report from the Auditor General found, “…funds accruing to this account were being used for partisan purposes and not for goods or services consistent with the original purpose of the constituency office.”
East Kootenay MLA Bill Bennett finds this concerning because local constituency offices have a heavy workload offering vital services to the community. Typical casework involves helping local constituents with Medical Service Plan issues, Pharmacare, welfare eligibility and access to other provincial services.
“Less money in NDP constituency offices means less help for those in the community who need it,” says Bennett. “This was money meant to help constituents and it was taken away. This wasn’t a simple mistake — it was a well organized plot and they only stopped when they got caught.”
Mungall explains all MLAs put $200 per month into this account to pay for multicultural outreach activities in constituencies throughout the province that no one office could afford on their own. The funds were used for translations and advocating on behalf of constituents with English as a second language. The legislative controller approved and managed this account.
“It was not secret. It was not hidden. It was transparently on the books under the legislative controllers office,” she says. “As soon as the Auditor General said to the legislative controller that this type of accounting practice is a problem, we discontinued it immediately.”
Mungall is comfortable with her participation in this fund saying that rules and regulations were followed.
“We used that money for very specific activities, none of which were partisan – none. I don’t know why the Auditor General chose that word,” she says.
Mungall says these accusations come at a time when the Liberals are desperately trying to divert people’s attention from their own use of public employees to do partisan work.
Earlier this month, the premier’s office received criticism for its use of civil servants in a multicultural outreach plan aimed at boosting Liberal support.
“They’re desperate and attempting to divert people’s attention from what they did was actually breaking the rules which is having public servants do partisan work,” she says. “They’re trying to say ‘they did it too but we didn’t.’”
Local Liberal candidate Greg Garbula doesn’t think it’s enough that Mungall says her party has stopped diverting funds.
“Is the party going to pay back to the community the money that was redirected or skimmed from the operating budget of the local offices?” he asks.
He also questions the balance of provincial coverage of the two issues.
“How does a story about the use of public employees for ethnic outreach garner two weeks of constant exposure when the blatant theft of public funds gets nothing more than an eight second sound bite?”