Summerside mayor defends political support with taxpayers' money

The City of Summerside is defending using taxpayer dollars to support political party events, something the mayor calls a regular practice for the city.

'It's a good investment:' Summerside Mayor Basil Stewart

The City of Summerside is defending using taxpayer dollars to support political party events, something the mayor calls a regular practice for the city.

"I think it's a good investment," said Basil Stewart, who has served as the city's mayor for nine terms.

"It has worked out well."

The practice was highlighted after the city posted its hospitality expense report for the first six months of 2013 on its website.

Summerside Mayor Basil Stewart is defending using taxpayer dollars to support political parties, which he calls a regular practice for the city. ((CBC))

The list included a $500 ticket to a P.E.I. Liberal Association dinner, a $500 ticket to the Progressive Conservative Island Fund to an event with Lisa Raitt, then federal labour minister, and $750 for five tickets to an Egmont Conservative Association fundraising dinner.

According to the mayor, the city buys at least one ticket whenever any political party — whether provincial or federal — invites the city to a fundraiser.

"For years the city has always supported all parties and usually if they have an annual fundraiser, whether it's Liberals or the Conservatives - and this year we supported the NDP with a purchase of a ticket." said Stewart.

The goal is to keep a good working relationship with all the parties, said Stewart, who has also served as president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

"Different political stripes become governments," he said. "What's that old saying? 'You dance with the one that brung you.'"

The mayor said he was unsure whether the city supported any particular party more than another.

"It all depends on who comes calling, and how much support they request," he said.

The City of Charlottetown does not release its hospitality expenses.

Nobody with the city was available for an interview Thursday, but a spokesperson said Charlottetown does not contribute to party fundraisers.

"I think the problem is it's the wild west when it comes to donations, and the pressure is overwhelming," said provincial NDP Leader Mike Redmond.

Redmond said the NDP did invite municipalities to its big fundraiser last year and confirmed that Summerside had contributed to the event. 

Nonetheless, he said the invitation is a reality of the system within which parties operate and added he thinks there should be a rule against taxpayer dollars funding parties.

"Their money would be much better spent on education, health, and local charities than it would be on feeling compelled to support political parties."


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