Corporate sponsors for premiers meeting not conflict of interest, says Ghiz

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on August 28, 2014

Premier Robert Ghiz prepares for the start of the premiers meeting with First Nations delegates in Charlottetown Tuesday.

©Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz says hundreds of thousands of dollars raised through corporate sponsors to entertain the country’s premiers in Prince Edward Island this week is not a conflict of interest.

The Council of the Federation raised $450,000 from a number of corporate sponsors, according to an article in the Ottawa Citizen.

It cites a list of sponsors, many of whom would have a keen interest in lobbying provincial governments on regulatory and policy issues, including the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada and the pipeline company TransCanada.

Their sponsorship allows representatives from these companies to attend receptions and social events that are a regular part of the annual Council of the Federation meetings.

But Ghiz dismissed the idea these companies gain any influence or additional face time as a result of their sponsorship, which range from $5,000 to $150,000.

“In my opinion it’s about supporting democracy, it helps save taxpayers’ money and we have union representatives there as well,” Ghiz said.

Indeed, three of the country’s biggest unions are on the list of gold level sponsors.

The Canadian Labour Congress, Unifor and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, each contributed $25,000, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

Ghiz made no apologies for the money raised and spent wining and dining the delegates, pointing out this saves taxpayers from having to foot the bill.

“If we’re bringing in people from all over the country, I want to show them a good time,” Ghiz said Wednesday.

But one of these expenses is raising eyebrows among some.

A block of VIP tickets for Saturday’s Shania Twain concert were reportedly purchased for a number of the 160-odd Council of the Federation delegates.

The tickets retail for $199.50 each, after taxes.

Ghiz said he did not know the details of how the sponsorship money was spent, but stressed this is how the federation meetings have operated for a number of years.

“We asked for sponsorship money, this is how it works year after year, if we didn’t have these dollars, someone would be saying how much is it costing the taxpayers,” he said.

“This is a good way to do things, if someone wants to change it into the future, great, but we weren’t changing it this year because I’d rather save the taxpayers of P.E.I. money.”

Ghiz added he is proud to be able to showcase the best of P.E.I.’s offerings both culinary and experiential to the conference delegates.

While in the province, the delegates will have an opportunity to taste P.E.I. lobsters, mussels, oysters, potatoes and steak. Premiers have already attended horse races Tuesday night in Charlottetown and will also have the chance to see Anne of Green Gables: The Musical and take part in some tours of the Island.

When asked whether he viewed the use of coporate sponsorship to pay for these events as a conflict of interest, Ghiz said simply, “God no.”