Wed, Apr 23rd - 7:17AM
Canadian Prime Minister Flip Flops on Election Rigging Scandal
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has flip-flopped on the recent election rigging scandal. Stephen Harper denies Conservatives committed fraud by using Elections Canada to pay for their television advertising.
In 2000, as head of the National Citizens Coalition, Stephen Harper
led an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada against election spending
limits for third parties.
He opposed such limits, and lost. The
Supreme Court in 2004 held that "the overarching objective of the
spending limits is electoral fairness." Spending limits exist, in its
words, to "level the playing field" so that parties with significant
financial resources cannot "dominate the political discourse."
jump ahead to 2006. Harper is leader of the opposition and has an
election to fight. Nationally, spending limits for each party have been
set at $18.5 million. Locally, limits vary but are about $70,000 for
National TV ads are expensive. The Conservative
party needs more money to pay for them. A decision is made. If it were
to give local ridings money, which it can do, those ridings could give
that money right back to it – "in-and-out," as Elections Canada would
later describe the scheme – to buy TV time locally in order to run ads
that would be identical to its national ads except that, at the end of
each ad at the bottom of the TV screen, in small print, would appear
the words, "Paid for by (name of local candidate)."
In this way,
according to Conservative party thinking, it could have ads with no
less of a national message, and impact, but paid for by local
campaigns. So instead of being able to spend only $18.5 million
nationally, it could spend much more.
Wait – it gets better.
After each election, by law, every local campaign is entitled to
receive a rebate from Elections Canada based on what that campaign
spent. In this instance, according to Conservative party logic, because
this "in-and-out" money would be considered local money, the rebate
received by each participating riding would be that much higher.
example, a riding that would otherwise have spent only $30,000 on its
local campaign, having received an additional $40,000 from the
Conservative party, then giving it right back for the TV ads, would be
deemed to have spent $70,000, entitling it to receive $42,000 as a
rebate instead of $18,000.
For each riding that would mean
having more money to pay off the debts of that campaign, more money for
the next election, then more "in-and-out" money during the next
election – election after election. The money would come from Elections
Canada, which means, of course, from the taxpayer, which means, of
course, from you and me.
this isn't what Elections Canada intended. Spending limits exist, as
the Supreme Court stated, so that "no one voice is overwhelmed by
Elections Canada set national and local limits for this
same reason. It also intended that national spending be for national
purposes, and local spending for local purposes.
Imagine for a
minute that the Conservatives' position is correct, and that
"in-and-out" transactions are allowable. It would then be possible for
the national Conservative campaign to "encourage" every local riding in
the country, all 308 of them, to receive, then send back, not just
$40,000 of their $70,000 local spending limit, but $60,000 or more.
It would mean, all for the price of a small tag line at the end of an
ad – "Paid for by (name of local candidate)" – that the national
campaign could spend to its $18.5 million limit, plus (say) $60,000
multiplied by 308 ridings, or another almost $18.5 million – in total,
It would also mean that each local riding, having
spent its limit of $70,000, would receive a rebate of $42,000 to spend
between election campaigns, for pamphlets, for local or national
"in-and-out" ads. So that when the next campaign began, much of their
local spending limit could again go "in-and-out" for the purposes of
the national campaign.
something is too good to be true, no matter how hard you spin it to
Elections Canada, to the courts, or to the Canadian people, usually it
There is a principle that applies to all facets of our common
law that you can't do indirectly what is expressly prohibited directly.
The Elections Act, in a specific provision, even states this principle
directly. The "in-and-out" nature of the Conservatives' arrangements
seems, ahem, fishy.
It suggests, at best, a mind that isn't quite
sure of the rightness of what it is doing. As well, it seems in some
cases as if these "in-and-out" transactions happened too fast for the
Conservative party's national office and their local candidates to get
their stories straight. Some candidates, in Elections Canada affidavits
filed in Court, said that the reason they were making these
"in-and-out" transactions was to contribute to the national ad buy.
Canada has ruled that for advertising to be considered local, it must
directly promote that local candidate or oppose his or her opponent, so
that "Paid for by Candidate X" would have to be understood as "direct
Beyond all this is a far larger problem for the
Conservatives – Stephen Harper. Besides his repeated comments about the
courts and judiciary, and his oft-demonstrated attitude of "I want to
do what I want to do, and I'm going to do it," it is his 2000 court
case, Harper v. Canada, the leading case in the field, that ended up in
the Supreme Court of Canada.
He brought it. He fought it. He lost
it. He knows the issue of spending limits backward and forward. He
knows what the Supreme Court said. He knows the law, its intention, its
spirit, everything about it. Yet, in the election of 2006, he did what
he did. It is called Fraud and he knows it.
It will be up to Elections Canada and the courts to
decide what they think about his actions. Then, in an election, it will
be up to Canadians to decide for themselves.
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