The Conservative Party’s dispute with Elections Canada over what has been dubbed the “In and out scandal” has been settled with the Conservatives paying a $50,000 fine and admitting to technical breaches of election spending rules. And charges against Conservative Senators Irving Gerstein and Doug Finley, and party officers Mike Donison and Susan Kehoe of wilfully violating party spending limits have been dropped.
So much for, a “scandal” that at least one Liberal blogger promised would be:
…a story of massive proportion. If it should turn out that they did break the Canada Elections Act, it would be, by far, the largest political scandal in Canadian history. … if the allegations are proven, it could result in the deregistration of the Conservative Party of Canada and the liquidation of its assets.
Once again, we see Liberal hyperbole for what it is: partisan hokum with more fizzle than sizzle.
The Tory election spending scheme was discussed by a panel on Sunday’s Question Period on the CTV network. Neither of the co-hosts, Craig Oliver nor Kevin Newman had the good graces or journalistic objectivity to remind viewers that the issue was a technical breach of election law rather than a “scandal.” After all, the Conservative Party’s position was upheld in an earlier court decision suggesting that Elections Canada had overstepped its mandate, a ruling that was later overturned on appeal. So the issue was never as clear cut as many in the media or the opposition would have us believe.
In fact, it is quite well known that opposition parties have in the past successfully used similar interpretations of election law. And it’s disingenuous of their spokespersons to pretend otherwise, to say nothing of what is says about Question Period’s co-hosts, Craig Oliver and Kevin Newman. Near the end of their discussion of the “scandal”—after spending several minutes trashing the Conservative Party—Kevin Newman did mention that Robin Sears, senior partner with the PR, lobbying and public opinion research firm Navigator Ltd. and former NDP national campaign director, had said on CTV’s Power Play (link here to see Sears at about the 3:30 mark) that other parties had been doing this sort of thing all along.
In a March 2008 report, The Hill Times quoted Mr. Sears as follows:
I piss off all my Liberal and NDP friends when I say this but you know, I’m sorry guys this is a little bit like a piano player in a brothel saying, ‘I had no idea what was going on upstairs.’ As early as the late 1970s, early 1980s when I was involved, we would regularly move money from ridings that were close to their limit and had more money that [sic] they needed and were willing to be helpful in return for whatever kind of political kudos, to ridings where we thought we had prospects in and had less money, or money from the centre to poorer ridings, or money from richer ridings to the centre. All the parties have done that since the Elections Expenses Act was created and probably going back to Sir John A. Macdonald.
I do not think that Elections Canada has been even-handed in its handling of this case. Consider the media frenzy when they had the RCMP assist them in a raid of Tory party offices in April 2008, with TV cameras, reporters and opposition party members looking on. Apparently, Elections Canada decided to make an example and they have succeeded.
This stands in sharp contrast to the leeway Elections Canada has allowed to the 2006 Liberal leadership candidates (from the convention that elected Stéphane Dion) who had outstanding campaign loans for years after they received them. Their deadline was extended last year to the end of 2011, some five years and three new Liberal Party leaders since they incurred the loans for their campaigns.
The really bad news here is at the expense of the hapless Liberal Party whose spokespersons tried valiantly to make a big deal of this issue. Its Interim Leader Bob Rae finds himself in charge of what is still the reigning champion of Canadian political party corruption: remember the Sponsorship Scandal?
The in-and-out practice falls in a grey zone of elections law and can be confusing—obviously, it “confused” the court that originally found in favour of the Tories. I’m glad to see it resolved and the loophole closed.