A brown envelope landed on my desk this week.
For any journalist, this is generally a welcome item – it’s how we get some of those golden news tips that can lead to a great news investigation or exclusive story.
But the content of this brown envelope was not a Watergate tip.
It was a copy of a legal document – a judgment filed against Hannah Bell, the Green party candidate who recently won the District 11 Charlottetown-Parkdale byelection in an upset victory against the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives.
The judgment, filed in September 2016, shows Bell owes $26,252 to the federal government in taxes.
It’s the second time I’ve been given this document since Bell’s victory on Nov. 27. In addition, its existence has been brought to my attention in whispers and messages from several members of both the Liberal and PC parties – in the hopes I would write about it.
After all, Family and Human Services Minister Tina Mundy’s personal financial debts became front-page news in 2015. Premier Wade MacLauchlan had selected her for cabinet and then, one day after being sworn in, accepted her resignation after it came to his attention Mundy had filed a consumer proposal.
Mundy said at that time she had struggled with financial issues as a single mother, but had taken steps to address her debt.
It turns out Bell’s situation is strikingly similar.
Bell says she was slapped with a $26,000 tax bill after the Canada Revenue Agency performed a reassessment of her taxes several years ago. She had received some bad financial advice when moving her federal pension into a private plan after leaving a federal government job, and the result was this expensive tax bill.
Her debt was such at the time – after a previous expensive custody battle and living life as a single mother – that she decided the best way to handle this bill was to file a consumer proposal.
“Most of us don’t have emergency funds that go into the tens of thousands of dollars,” Bell said.
“I’m happy to say I’m now, and have been for awhile, in a situation of stability.”
But Bell says she’s sad her financial issues had to come to light in this way.
After all, she’s not in cabinet, as Mundy was when her finances made headlines. She has not even been sworn into office yet.
“The timing of this coming out now, obviously the timing of it is very political. And I’m sad about that on behalf of the message it sends,” she said.
“But I’m also quite clear if that’s the only thing someone is prepared to bring out against me, we can move on from this because frankly there’s not really a story there.”
The issue of whether it’s a story is murky. The personal debts of MLAs don’t tend to become the subject of news stories unless they somehow affect their duties in public office.
But this legal document is now being circulated and it is a matter of public record. Also, the details of Bell’s consumer proposal will be filed in her conflict of interest disclosures after she is sworn in as an MLA.
Regardless, Bell says she’s not ashamed of this story being told.
“I’m not ashamed about the fact that I’ve worked really hard for my daughter and I’ve worked really hard to get her what she needs and for us to have a good life,” she said.
“It puts me a little bit closer to everybody’s regular story, which is – I can tell you what it feels like to run out of money and wonder what you’re going to do and that you have to make really good decisions. So for that, there is no shame in this.”
Bell will be sworn into office as P.E.I.’s second Green party MLA today.
Teresa Wright is The Guardian’s chief political reporter. She can be reached at Teresa.firstname.lastname@example.org or 902-629-6000 ext. 6033