Three banks wrote off a significant chunk of the money owed to them by the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador, but on Wednesday Liberal Leader Dwight Ball wouldn’t say how much money was written off, or which banks were involved.
Ball had a big smile on his face Wednesday as he approached reporters to talk about paying off the party’s debt, which stood at about $885,000 not that long ago.
“The debt has been repaid, and it’s been a good news day, and a good news story for the party,” Ball said.
But when reporters started asking questions, Ball refused to go into specifics about how much money was actually repaid, versus how much money was written off by the banks.
All he would say is that the principal of the loan was repaid, whereas the interest and penalties associated with the debt were written off.
He said he couldn’t even give exact numbers.
“They vary, and they change over time,” Ball said. “The interest on one day would be very different than the interest on another day. So, the numbers are, they’re not really an exact science.”
Ball was also evasive about which banks were writing off part of the debt.
“There’s no need right now to disclose who the financial institutions would be,” he said.
“I can go back, I can speak to those institutions, and if they’re comfortable with us giving that information to you, I have no question there’s nothing there for me to hide.”
Ball would only say vaguely that people would know the banks.
“These are banks, certainly banks that are very familiar with the people in this province,” he said.
The debt has been on the Liberal party’s books ever since 2003, when the party took out a loan to finance that year’s election campaign.
After the Liberals were decimated by Danny Williams’ Tories, they were unable to fundraise the necessary money to pay it back.
In the past couple of years, though, as the party has started to climb in the polls, it has held a series of high-profile fundraising events, including $500-per-plate fundraising dinners in St. John’s, and a $10,000-per-person event in Toronto with Ball, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Brian Tobin.
Ball has made government transparency a central theme when he talks about how he would govern, but this is not the first time he has struggled with public disclosure regarding political donations.
During the Liberal leadership race, the party imposed no rules on finances, and Ball accepted tens of thousands of dollars in donations.
After he won, and journalists asked him to release his donors list, Ball said he could only do that if he checked with his donors to make sure it was OK, because public disclosure was never part of the agreement when they gave money to him.
In the end, Ball released a list of people he took money from, but he had to pay back $11,000 in donations to donors who did not want their names publicly revealed.
A spokesman for Elections Newfoundland and Labrador said it’s not entirely clear whether the banks writing off interest and penalties would count as a political contribution under the province’s political financing laws; if it’s not, then which banks let the Liberals off the hook never need to be publicly disclosed.
Elections Newfoundland and Labrador is reviewing the matter.