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Municipal councillors donated to Saskatchewan Party using taxpayer funds to gain access to premier, other provincial politicians


This story is a joint investigation between CTV Regina reporter Donovan Maess and Investigative Journalism Foundation reporter Kate Schneider.

Multiple municipalities, including the City of Regina, have donated tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to Saskatchewan’s political parties in the past few years, a joint investigation between CTV Regina and the Investigative Journalism Foundation has revealed.

The donations were made by top municipal officials, such as the mayor of Regina, purchasing tickets to party fundraising events that offered access to top provincial politicians, such as the premier. Nearly all of the donations were made to the governing Saskatchewan Party.

Saskatchewan is one of the few remaining provinces in Canada to allow corporations, including municipalities, to donate to provincial parties. Its minimal restrictions on who can donate and how much have led the province to be deemed the “wild west” of election finance by academic experts and media alike.

“It’s unethical and undemocratic for them to be using taxpayers’ money in this way and it should be prohibited,” said Duff Conacher, co-founder of government accountability non-profit Democracy Watch.

Daniel Westlake, assistant professor of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan, agreed that these donations were “probably not good practice.”

“The danger is you taking money that taxpayers expect to be sent on the city and city services and it ends up flowing to a particular party,” said Westlake. “You want to be very careful about the way the public funds get sent to parties or get used for this kind of stuff because it is, in principle, problematic.”

Over two dozen different municipalities have used taxpayer funds to donate roughly $46,000 to the Saskatchewan Party since 2006, the year before it was first elected to power, according to an analysis of provincial parties’ annual fiscal returns filed with Elections Saskatchewan.

In the past four years alone, the Saskatchewan Party has raised $16,720 from 14 different municipalities. The donation amounts have ranged from $295 to $3,950 and have come from larger cities, such as Regina and Prince Albert, as well as rural municipalities, such as Birch Hills and Corman Park.

The Saskatchewan NDP received only two municipal donations since 2006, both from the City of Regina. The city donated $287 in 2022 and $309 in 2009.

The donations are recorded on fiscal returns as coming directly from the municipalities. However, expense reports for elected City of Regina officials reveal that these donations came from councillors purchasing tickets for provincial party fundraisers and expensing them back to the city.

When reached for comment, both the Saskatchewan Party and the Saskatchewan NDP confirmed that the donations were tied to ticket purchases for fundraising events.

Tim Williams, provincial secretary and CEO of the Saskatchewan New Democrats, said that the donations in 2022 were for two ticket purchases to attend the NDP’s Regina Leader’s Reception.

Patrick Bundrock, executive director of the Saskatchewan Party, similarly confirmed that ticketed events attended by municipal council members included the Premier’s Dinner and party golf tournaments.

In 2022, Regina Mayor Sandra Masters expensed to the city $250 for the Premier’s Dinner and $200 for the NDP Leader Dinner.

“When you’re a creature of the province and … legislation that governs you comes from the province, different ministerial portfolios deeply affect the city,” Masters said when questioned why she attended these events. “Our job is to align our asks with things that you can convince them, help them achieve their goals and that holds true for the federal government as well.”

“When you’re able to have access to different folks that are either working on or have influence over your ability to advance as a city, you try to use your time to make sure you’re present,” Masters added.

Westlake said he suspected the municipalities, including Regina, were using donations as a form of access. “The city can justify it as essentially lobbying on behalf of the city but, I mean, there probably are better ways to do that. And it’s a different problem if the City of Regina feels like they can’t get a meeting with the premier,” said Westlake.

Masters confirmed that the tickets were paid for using the mayor’s travel, training, and conference budget and that her budget is taxpayer-funded.

After CTV and the IJF explained to Masters that these fundraiser tickets were listed on provincial party fiscal returns as contributions from the City of Regina, the mayor said she was unaware that funds had been donated and expressed uncertainty over what counted as a donation.

“You’re saying there’s been a donation written by the City of Regina?” Masters asked. “As it relates to something called a donation, if that’s attendance at premier’s dinners or, during the Canadian Western Agribition there’s a premier’s breakfast, if that’s the definition, I can imagine that mayors and/or councillors or even city administration have been attending different events.”

Saskatchewan’s Political Contributions Tax Credit Act states that “the net proceeds of a ticket to a fund-raising function” is considered a political contribution, a definition also outlined in Elections Saskatchewan’s guide to The Election Act.

Elections Saskatchewan declined an interview for this story.

Regina city councillor Terina Nelson also expensed a $250 ticket to the Saskatchewan Party Premier’s Dinner in 2022.

“We go so that we can have a first-hand talk with them as to the issues that we’re facing in the city to bring forward for them for funding,” said Nelson. “It’s being at the table and it’s having all those ministers in one room. Having [Saskatchewan Premier] Scott Moe where I can pull him aside or having [Saskatchewan NDP leader] Carla Beck where I can pull her aside and say ‘Hey, this is something that Ward 7 is having issues with.’”

When pointed out that ticket purchases are effectively donations to the provincial parties, Nelson said that, from the city’s perspective, it wasn’t seen as a fundraiser. “We have it in our books as an event that we attended,” said Nelson.

Further pressed about donations made by the City of Regina to the Saskatchewan Party, Nelson said, “I didn’t know that and I’m not going to comment on that because I have no idea.”

The deputy city clerk for the City of Regina, Amber Ackerman, said it is up to the discretion of councillors on how they spend this budget provided “it’s within their duties as an elected official.”

However, Ackerman said city councillors “aren’t allowed to make a political donation in their capacity as an elected official. If they wish to do that individually, they’re more than welcome to do that.”

When asked about the fact that city councillors have made these donations through fundraising event ticket purchases, Ackerman simply said that all expenses are made available annually through the city’s public accounts report.

Despite ticket purchases appearing in the mayor and councillors’ expense reports for 9 out of the past 12 years, Desirae Bernreuther, a spokesperson for the City of Regina, said the city doesn’t “have any record of direct payments” to the Saskatchewan Party and NDP.

Conacher said it was not unusual in the past for municipal councillors to donate to gain access to provincial politicians at fundraisers but that, in recent years, this practice has largely stopped across Canada as most provinces have banned corporate donations.

Currently, Saskatchewan, Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador are the only jurisdictions that allow donations from corporations.

Despite Quebec prohibiting corporate donations, François Legault’s government has been wracked with scandal the past month after mayors were revealed to be donating to the governing Coalition Avenir Québec from their personal funds to gain access to the premier and cabinet ministers.

In response to criticism over contributions from municipalities, Quebec Premier Legault has said his party will stop accepting all political donations.

In 2017, several councillors in Nova Scotia were found to have breached the province’s Elections Act by purchasing tickets to provincial party fundraisers and having them illegally reimbursed by their municipality. The councillors at the time stated they were unaware their expensing of ticket purchases was illegal.

There have been no recent efforts by the Saskatchewan Party to reform the province’s political finance laws.

Matthew Glover, director of media relations for the premier, confirmed to CTV and the IJF that there are no existing plans to introduce changes to Saskatchewan’s Elections Act before this upcoming year’s election.

In contrast, the Saskatchewan NDP promised in 2020 that it would end corporate and union donations if elected. Despite this promise, the Saskatchewan NDP still accepted tens of thousands of dollars in donations from corporations in 2022.

“This is a debate that has to be had in Saskatchewan,” said Westlake. “Parties will be responsive to donors. Do you want parties that have incentives to be responsive to corporate and union entities? Or do you want them limited to being responsive … to individuals?” Top Stories

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