Although clearly not as important as the riveting tale of a teenager who felt “used” by the Liberal Party, yesterday’s news concerning the Tories ad scheme in Quebec being described as “illegal” is something that should make people sit up and take notice. Unfortunately however, it likely won’t and doesn’t appear to be doing so — such are the benefits (to the government at least) of intriguing stories like this unfolding during the dog days of summer.
In a court filing of cross-examination made in connection with the Conservatives’ litigation against Elections Canada it was revealed that:
Four-fifths of the cost of the Conservatives’ 2006 election-campaign advertising in Quebec was funnelled through local campaigns in a financing scheme that Elections Canada alleges was illegal, according to testimony provided in a court case.
Ann O’Grady, until April the chief financial officer of the Conservative Party of Canada, said Quebec candidates claimed about 80 per cent of the roughly $1-million in Quebec campaign advertising costs as their own, although the party gave them the money to spend.
The way Tory ad expenses were treated varied greatly between Quebec – where, in the 2005-06 election campaign, most Tory candidates were considered lost causes – and the rest of the country. Outside Quebec, local candidates only claimed about 7 per cent of Conservative ad costs as local expenses.
In other words, 80 percent of the money spent on Conservative advertising in Quebec came from the national party, was immediately transferred in to local campaigns, then transferred straight back out to buy national ads (along with miniscule local tag lines) allowing the party to significantly boost its ad purchases across the country with money that would have otherwise been squandered on hopeless local races. Subsequently, local Tory candidates then sought taxpayer refunds for the money that had essentially just been “laundered” through their accounts.
Although it’s possible that what the Conservatives might describe as merely a bit of “creative accounting” could yet be judged as having been perfectly legal, it certainly seems to violate the spirit of the regulations, if nothing else. Should it eventually turn out to be the case that the Conservatives are exonerated, can we then expect the other parties to follow suit with similar “in-and-out” ad schemes of their own? Sure, it would make a complete mockery of the spending limit regulations, but haven’t the Conservatives already done that?