Twofundraisers that will see Albertans pay $5,000 for a meeting with Premier Ed Stelmach and some senior ministers have raised the ire of the opposition parties.
The fundraisers are meant to help some former leadership candidates erase debts from the recent leadership campaign. But opposition parties have argued that Alberta's new premier is unfairly selling access to his government.
"This is very black and white. This is about open, accountable government or about secret, cynical government. I'm really disappointed that Ed Stelmach has chosen secrecy and cynicism," said provincial Liberal Leader Kevin Taft.
|An e-mail from John Larsen, former campaign manager for Lyle Oberg|
"...Today I wanted to let all of you know, if you haven't already heard through other channels, that there will be a great opportunity for you and your associates to meet our new Premier, the Honourable Ed Stelmach, and some of his Ministers, here in Calgary on the evening of January 18th, 2007.
A reception will be held in Ranahan's in the Grandstand at Stampede Park from 5:00 to 7:00 PM. Tickets to the reception are $500.00 per person. There is also an opportunity to attend a smaller, more exclusive event prior to the above event for a minimum donation of $5,000.00 (which also provides admission for two.)
Both events will offer you and your colleagues an excellent opportunity to spend time with the new Premier, and Ministers, to discuss the issues the new Government will face in the run-up to the next election and make them aware of your key issues. The purpose of this event is to help retire the campaign debts of Premier Stelmach, Ministers Hancock and Oberg, and Mr. Mark Norris. As such, although no tax receipts can be issued for this event, in the appropriate circumstances it can certainly be considered a business expense..."
Suggested donation $5,000
The first event is in Calgary next Thursday, with a second held the next day in Edmonton.
Party members are invited to buy $500 tickets for a reception, but there is also a smaller event where the suggested donation is $5,000 for a"more exclusive"get-together with the premier and some senior ministers, according to an e-mail from John Larsen, who is selling tickets.
"Both events will offer you and your colleagues an excellent opportunity to spend time with the new Premier, and Ministers, to discuss the issues the new Government will face in the run-up to the next election and make them aware of your key issues," reads the e-mail.
The money raised will go toward Stelmach's leadership campaign debts, and the debts of three Tories who failed to pass the first ballot, then threw their support behind Stelmach— Health Minister David Hancock, Finance Minister Lyle Oberg and former cabinet minister Mark Norris.
Stelmach is away on vacation and could not be reached for comment. Joan Forge, who speaks for the premier, said critics are not accurately describing what the events are about.
"It's not unusual for successful candidates to help cover costs of other campaigns and campaign shortages. That's not unusual and it was just decided to work together as a group. We're all one party, right?"
Lobbying happens every day: Libin
Sean Libin, who was the communications advisor on Oberg's campaign, said there might be some lobbying at the event, but he doesn't see the harm in that.
"I guess anytime you have the opportunity to meet some key political or public officials there's always going to be somebody that thinks that there's an opportunity for lobbying, and to smaller degrees, there probably is an opportunity to let your issues be known. But government relations and lobbying is not a new concept and it goes on every day in the legislature."
Libin says the cost of the tickets isn't out of the ordinary either, with some events of a political or a celebrity nature charging as much as $10,000.
'Offering to listen to concerns for money:' Mason
Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason said when Stelmach was running for the leadership, he promised a more open and transparent government.
"Receptions are fine, dinners are fine, barbecues are fine," said Mason.
"What distinguishes those things from this is that here the premier is actually offering to listen to people's concerns for money. And he's paid by the taxpayers to do that, and so to charge on top of it is unacceptable."
Forge says the premier is fully aware of all the details surrounding the fundraising events.
"Anytime there is any kind of political event and there is members of the legislature there— MLAs, or cabinet ministers or the premier— that is an opportunity to talk to them and tell them what you think the issues are."