Political perks list in Alberta includes McCartney tickets and samurai swords

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Should our politicians really be accepting gifts from corporations, non-profits or even constituents?

Alberta's ethics commissioner recently disclosed the annual list of gifts to provincial politicians.  According to the Edmonton Journal, the list includes tickets to a sold-out Paul McCartney concert, airfare and accommodation to conferences throughout the United States and even a gift set of samurai swords.

MLAs defended the practice of receiving gifts, arguing that the gift givers didn't want to influence them, they just wanted to..ahem...'build relationships.'

[ Related: Free McCartney tickets just part of the job, says Alberta speaker ]

Some of MLAs' justifications for accepting the gifts are just rich:

“I...used to have a rock band, and sang a lot of Beatles songs," speaker Gene Zwozdesky, told the Edmonton Journal about the the McCartney tickets he received from Telus.

"Telus reaches out to community people in a variety of different ways, and this would be one of them. It helps people to come to understand each other."

CBC News spoke to NDP MLA Rachel Notley who received free hotel and airfare to San Diego from the United Steelworkers union to speak at a conference.

"The union was paying for me to go and do something for the union, to provide a service, to speak," she said according to CBC.

"It's a bit different than if the union had just paid for me to go and sit on the beach for three days. One is a gift where there's actually sort of a bonus — a benefit — whereas the other one was expenses."

In addition to Telus and the United Steelworkers, Enbridge, Capital Power and the Calgary of Chamber Commerce all gave presents to MLAs — incidentally they're all registered as lobbyists in the province of Alberta.

Under provincial rules, any gift over $400 must be publicly disclosed.

Under federal ethics rules, all gifts must be disclosed to the ethics office and publicly declared when they are valued at $500 or more. Defence Minister Peter MacKay's gift list, for example, includes a round of golf with billionaire businessman Ron Joyce, a baseball autographed by Joe Di Maggio and tickets to a CFL football game.

Certainly, disclosure rules go a long way in keeping politicians honest.

But it's clear — at least in the case of Alberta — that politicians are getting juicy perks from companies and organizations that could potentially benefit from government legislation.

Some jurisdictions in the United States have legislated all-out gift-bans to try to stop lobbyists influencing government officials with perks. But, according to Derek Fildebrandt of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, that's just not practical.

[ Related: Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi takes the high ground on mayoral scandals ]

"If we just outright banned gifts, than the entire practice would just go underground," he told Yahoo! Canada News in an email exchange.

"It's really quite impossible to ban someone from being invited to a hockey game for instance. All that would happen is that it would either not be recorded, or they would find a backdoor to do it.

"The result would be worse than the status quo, where we at least know what they are getting and from who."