Greens criticize P.E.I. government for 'inappropriate' presentation of public funds

The P.E.I. Green Party is criticizing government, saying a presentation of provincial funding was staged to look like a philanthropic gesture.

Government recently presented a novelty cheque for $1 million at a fundraiser

P.E.I. Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker says Saturday night's presentation was 'inappropriate.' Health Minister Robert Mitchell says this type of funding announcement is not unusual. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

The P.E.I. Green Party is criticizing government, saying a presentation of provincial funding was staged to look like a philanthropic gesture.

Six members of the Liberal cabinet presented a large novelty cheque for $1 million at the Prince County Hospital Grass Roots and Cowboy Boots fundraiser last weekend. The gala is hosted every year to raise funds for hospital equipment.

In a Facebook post, Minister of Transportation Paula Bigger, who helped present the cheque, described it as a donation.

"As a government we were pleased to reaffirm our commitment to Prince County Hospital with a $1M donation over four years to support the PCH Equipment Fund," she wrote. ​The post has since been edited, changing the word "donation" to "commitment."

Funding of hospital equipment in capital budget

But that initial description raised concerns for the Island Green Party, with leader Peter Bevan-Baker calling it inappropriate.

"Of course it's lovely seeing public funds being used as they should be and entirely appropriately for essential government services," said Bevan-Baker.

"What disappointed me was that several cabinet ministers showed up at a hospital fundraiser and handed over a million dollar cheque and described that on Facebook as a million dollar donation and really all it is, is public money being used as it should be."

It is a fundraising gala that's been in place for 10 years. It's the way they do these announcements and it's the way it occurred on Saturday night.— Health Minister Robert Mitchell

The funding comes from allocated spending for hospital equipment outlined in the capital budget. $15.9 million is slated for hospital equipment this year. 

Health Minister Robert Mitchell said government has worked with foundations in the past to purchase equipment, and that this type of funding is not unusual.

"Yes, so we were able to, and very proud to donate $1 million over four years to support Prince County Hospital Foundation," Mitchell told CBC News. "Whenever we can partner with foundations on identified equipment, we are really pleased to do that." 

'A government presentation'

As for Saturday night's presentation of the $1 million cheque, Mitchell said this was just a government presentation of that funding. He said the cabinet members present all had a vested interest in the area.

"It was never indicated that it was anything different. It was a government announcement of funding," said Mitchell.

They spend that money in a way that makes it look like a philanthropic gesture, when really all they're doing is carrying out an essential role of government, and that's problematic.— Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker

"It is a fundraising gala that's been in place for 10 years. It's the way they do these announcements and it's the way it occurred on Saturday night." 

Mitchell added that there are plans to make similar funding announcements with other, smaller hospital foundations across the province in the near future. 

'It's disingenuous. It's deceitful'

But Bevan-Baker argues Saturday night's venue was an inappropriate place to announce that funding, and that the presentation of a novelty cheque, and later having it described as a donation, crosses a line.

"They spend that money in a way that makes it look like a philanthropic gesture, when really all they're doing is carrying out an essential role of government, and that's problematic," he said.

Those are public funds and the governing party should not be seen to benefit from giving those funds...as they are mandated to do as stewards of the public's purse.— Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker

The funding itself will be distributed $250,000 a year, over the next four years. Bevan-Baker said presenting the funding as a $1 million cheque gives a different impression of how the money is being given.

"It's disingenuous. It's deceitful," he said. 

Wants spending without focus of public approval

Bevan-Baker adds that this is not the first time government spending has been described as a donation. He wants to introduce legislation that prohibits government spending with the primary goal of gaining public approval.

"Those are public funds and the governing party should not be seen to benefit from giving those funds ... as they are mandated to do as stewards of the public's purse," said Bevan-Baker.

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About the Author

Nicole Williams

Nicole Williams is a video journalist with CBC P.E.I. She previously worked as an associate producer with CBC News in Toronto.