Bill Estabrooks accepts he has to slash his donations spending, but he isn’t happy about it.
“To put it to you candidly it makes me real damn angry,” said the NDP cabinet minister yesterday.
Estabrooks was the most generous giver amongst MLAs. He spent $29,750 on donations and gifts over the 12 months before the June election, more than any other member. He also spent $14,674 on advertising.
That will have to end after the internal economy board decimated advertising spending limits to about $400 per month — one-tenth of the previous maximum. Another $1,050 fund was cut altogether.
“I’m frustrated, I’m disappointed, but I’ll do as I’m told,” Estabrooks said. “I’ve got to live with the decision that was made, that’s the bottom line.”
He said the recipients of his donations included church groups, sports teams and needy constituents. He mentioned one case where he helped a single mother afford to enrol her kids in hockey and gymnastics.
“I guess I can’t help her out anymore. That’s the way it goes,” he said.
Estabrooks’ most controversial advertising was to have a junior hockey team wear “Bill MLA” on the backs of its jerseys. He said he was hurt by accusations of vote buying, and said that was never his intention.
The practice of MLAs using their expense accounts to donate to charities has come under the microscope since the auditor general’s report last month. Scott Hennig, president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the spending was inappropriate.
This week former speaker Art Donahoe, who is charged with crafting the new rules around MLA expenses, is also skeptical of community donations.
“I think that’s very laudible,” he said this week. “What I’m not certain, though, is whether they should come out of the public purse.”
Donahoe’s recommendations include banning any “word, initial, colour or device” that links an MLA to a political party in constituency advertisements.