N.S. Liberals in no rush to decide what to do with banned trust funds

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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HALIFAX - Nova Scotia Liberals are in no rush to decide what to do with the $2.3 million in their trust funds.
Party president Derek Wells said Sunday the party has no timetable to deal with the funds, which can no longer be used for political purposes after new provincial party financing laws unanimously passed last week.
Along with locking up what remains of the Liberals' infamous trust funds, the new law also bans union and corporate donations.
"There's no rush to deal with this," said Wells. "There's nothing in the legislation that requires us to make a decision. It simply says we can't use it for political purposes."
He said the legislation was only passed last week "so it's early days yet."
Wells said he has had informal discussions about the fate of the money, but the review process will take time to complete.
"Clearly, the management team of the party has discussed it, and we will be discussing it further with the officers of the party and the members."
Wells said Liberals could possibly vote on the matter at a special party meeting or perhaps at the next annual general meeting, set for May.
"But those decisions haven't been made. It probably won't be for some time."
The taint of the trust funds goes back to the 1970s, an era of liquor company kickbacks and colourful party fundraisers. At issue were the Hawco and Howmur accounts that came to the public's attention during influence-peddling trials in the 1980s.
In the 1990s, the party tried to mollify critics by returning $1.3 million of dirty money to the provincial treasury.
Parker Donham, a journalist who has followed the trail of the trust funds for many years, said Liberal Leader Stephan McNeil did a masterful job of perhaps finally getting the controversial issue off the party's back by not throwing any roadblocks in front of the bill last week.
"It was the right thing to do and the strategically smart thing to do," Donham said.
He said the party could turn the final corner if the money is earmarked to go to Nova Scotians.
"He can turn this liability into an opportunity by doing all kinds of good things with that money," Donham said. "He could go around the province for the next six months and sprinkle $10,000 here and $20,000 there on worthwhile, locally beloved projects.
"If I was McNeil, I would be looking at picking three or four issues on which to focus . . . then finding ways to use this money to highlight those issues."
Wells wouldn't reveal his own thoughts on what to do with the funds.
Along with being party president, the former MP was also recently nominated as a federal candidate in the South Shore-St. Margarets riding and he has been hearing from potential voters.
"I've had a lot of suggestions already. People are interested in this issue."

Organizations: Hawco

Geographic location: Nova Scotians, South Shore

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