EDMONTON - Alberta's finance minister says despite billionaire Daryl Katz's sizable donation to the governing Tory party, it turned down his requests for money for a new arena for his Edmonton Oilers.
"The Katz Group asked for a change in casino licences. We said no," Doug Horner told the legislature during question period Monday.
"The (Katz) Group asked for direct funding of an arena. We said no then, we're saying no today. That has been our position, and that will continue to be our position."
His answer came as opposition politicians hammered on the government for a second consecutive sitting day after it was revealed Katz, his family, and associates contributed $300,000 to the Progressive Conservatives in the last election campaign.
That's about 20 per cent of all money the party took in. Some reports say it was as high as $430,000.
Alberta Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith urged voters to "connect the dots" given that Katz has asked for millions for his arena while also making the big donation to the Tories and sitting on a Crown corporation advising the government on how to invest.
"Does anyone in this government have a problem with that?" charged Smith.
Horner dismissed it as conspiracy theory fantasizing, adding that the Wildrose has been OK with large single-source donations to its coffers.
"Next they'll probably be suggesting that I was at the grassy knoll when JFK was assassinated," he said.
Both the Wildrose and the New Democrats have asked Elections Alberta to investigate whether the Katz donation broke election spending limits.
No one person or group is allowed to contribute more than $30,000.
A Tory party spokesman has declined to talk about specifics of the donations, but says all their supporting paperwork is in order to prove they followed the law.
No one from the Katz Group has commented on the donations.
Nevertheless, NDP Leader Brian Mason told the house he wants proof of no quid pro quo.
"No reasonable person would believe that Daryl Katz would have given up to $430,000 to the Tory campaign without getting something in return," said Mason.
"Albertans want to know the terms of the deal."
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said the Tories brought the grief on themselves.
"Alberta's election finance laws leave holes you could drive a truck through," said Sherman.
"The current rules do nothing to prevent large contributions to all leadership candidates in all political parties from companies, unions, and wealthy individuals."
While the province is saying there is no direct funding, Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths reiterated Monday that if Edmonton city councillors want to use provincial infrastructure grant money for the rink, they can do so.
And he criticized Wildrose member Rob Anderson for complaining about Edmonton possibly using infrastructure money to build a public rink while Anderson was OK with one in his Airdrie riding.
"The only thing weaselly going on is the insinuations consistently from this member attacking the City of Edmonton," Griffiths shouted across the aisle.
Under the original deal with Katz, Edmonton would own the arena, but the Oilers would keep all the profits for 11 months of the year.
The entire issue may be moot. The city voted earlier this month to walk away from the deal with Katz after the Oilers owner refused to come to city council and explain why he needed at least $210 million more from the city over the 35-year life of the deal.
The debate Monday often spilled outside the rules of question period. Only government policy issues, not political party concerns, are to be debated.
Speaker Gene Zwozdesky found himself constantly ordering opposition members to re-phrase their questions. The opposition said they were in bounds, given concerns that Katz's election contributions to the Tory party could now affect government policy.
But as the debate became heated, the grey area melted away, leading Zwozdesky to deliver a tongue-lashing.
"I am charged with upholding the rules of this house. On the other hand, I like to allow as much freedom of expression and freedom of speech, which people died for so that you would have it. But not so you would abuse it," he said.
"I've had enough of it, honourable members. You're smart enough to have gotten yourselves elected. Stay smart enough to stay elected."
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