Monday, April 21, 2008

The Real Central Question

A Tory official in today's Star:
Conservative officials scoffed at suggestions extra spending by the national campaign might have made the difference in a dozen or so ridings and helped the party win the election.

"The fundamental question here is this: who has the right to determine how a party electorally advertises itself?" said one.

"I believe I have the right to determine that if I wanted to use Stephen Harper and the central message to advertise regionally, I should be allowed to do that ... "
The Conservative Party believes this, but that is not relevant. The Parliament of Canada passed a law which put limits on party spending during elections and made Elections Canada the judge of how parties spend their money. The only thing to be determined here is whether or not the Conservative Party broke that duly passed law. The real central question in this case is whether the Conservative Party feels bound by law? If the answer to that question is no, that the party does not feel obligated to follow the laws passed by Parliament, then we must conclude we do not have a legitimate government at the moment.
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  1. Aaron Wherry has run a list of the tory ridings involved--not one of them is from Alberta, though every other province is involved. Fester, can you say buffer?

  2. You're completely misinterpreting the comment. The comment is with regard to the CONTENT. The point the person is making is that the government shouldn't be able to say what is 'local' advertising v. 'federal' advertising, based on content. The fact that they were basically the same ad (allowing for high production values, but at a much lower production cost) in many ridings doesn't answer the question of whether or not it was to elect a CPC member in a given riding. The question of the legality of the advertising (they are legal, btw) is completely different from the point she's trying to make: that the effective content of an ad may differ from riding to riding.

    Paul Martin's campaign put 'TEAM MARTIN' on every lawn sign, used the same colors (red and white) and 'Liberal' on every sign. Those elements do not make them a federal advertisement. Even if you shrunk the candidates name on the lawnsign to 1/2" tall, and put LIBERAL in big bold letters, it would still be a local advertisement. Why? Because the intent of putting it on someone's lawn is to influence people locally to vote for the candidate in 1/2" tall writing.

  3. government shouldn't be able to say what is 'local' advertising v. 'federal' advertising, based on content.

    But that is exactly my point, the government can do exactly that. If the Conservative Party wants to change the law then there is a process for doing so.

    As for team Martin, did the federal party put money into local accounts and then remove it as a way to pay for the signs? If the federal Liberals spent their federal money on the signs and stayed within the spending limit, then it is entirely legit.

    The whole problem here as I read it is the national Tory campaign sought to exploit what it saw as a loophole in the spending law and got caught. If Martin did the same then he should be held to account, but my understand is the Liberals did not do that.

  4. "Tory campaign sought to exploit what it saw as a loophole in the spending law and got caught"

    If its a 'loophole', then by definition the action is legal, and the whole drama of enacting a search warrant is simply optics on behalf of the Liberal Party by elections Canada.

    If it is a loophole in the law, then it is LEGAL, and the government can decide to pass a law to close it, or not. But Elections Canada has no business arbitrarily deciding after the fact that the loophole should have been closed and trying to make it appear illegal when it isn't.

    In the 2004 election the federal liberal party transfered about 300$ to 14 candidates in Southern Alberta for buying an ad in the Calgary Herald. The ad had the 14 names on it (same as the ones placed by individual CPC candidates), and said as follows:

    "Paul Martin and your Liberal Candidates will provide national leadership to secure universal public health care and invest in our communities.

    On Monday, June 28th, choose your leadership and support your local Liberal Candidate.

    Authorized by the Official Agent of the Liberal Party of Canada."

    A generic ad without any mention of specific ridings, without any mention of 'Alberta', authorized by the 'Official agent' of the federal party (not by the official agent of a specific campaign as the CPC ads were).

    These amounts were claimed by the 14 candidates on their returns. There's even a letter out there from Sheamus Murphy to one of the individual candidates telling him to claim it on his filings with Elections Canada.

    In the 2006 election there was an ad buy by a group of NB Liberals ($386 in transfers each to 10 ridings) for an ad that was basically the same as the above (no mention of local issues, no NB specific issues, the names of the candidates are on it (as they were in the CPC ads), plugging Paul Martin for PM).

    And the NDP did it too:

    Libby Davies campaign recieved 2162$ from the national NDP for radio ads. It read:

    "After years of broken promises and corruption, the Liberals just don't deserve your vote.

    Enough is enough -- people work hard to pay their taxes.

    Jack Layton and the NDP will work so that we get the services we pay for. Fighting crime. Health care when we need it. Affordable education for young people. Long-term care for seniors.

    We'll make Ottawa accountable for you.

    In Vancouver East, Re-elect Libby Davies."

    One line in a script that basically could be used anywhere else in the country. Its a template ad, like putting the name on a Liberal lawn sign. There is an email out there from the Federal NDP to Davies' official agent:

    "We are told by communications folks in BC that these were radio ads with the Candidate's personal tag on the end - therefore a local expense to be reported under the Candidate's expense ceiling, regardless of who pays."

    Which is exactly the CPC's position, and has been from the start.

    It gets more fun though, because the official agent questions the invoice, which gets this response:

    "For rebate purposes, we were asked to to bill each campaign - in the case of VanEast, $2,612.00.

    The good news is that the Federal Party will transfer $2,600 to the Federal Riding Association as we agreed to pay for the ads.

    We hope that you are able to squeeze this in under the ceiling. Some expenses are not considered election expenses subject to limits, such as fundraising costs. Please look at the totals and get back to us if you think you have a problem."

    In other words, if you have a problem, try to find a way to make it fit.

    Like I said before, there is plenty of reason to understand this practice to be legal, and that all three parties availed themselves of it, but only one is being chased by Elections Canada about it.

    The law is supposed to blind and balanced. Not partisan, and elections Canada has been partisan in this case and should be taken to task for it. Either refuse to refund every parties expenses of this sort, clarify the rule (change the law), or let everyone use it. Trying to single out one party is a violation of the constitutional requirement of equality under the law.

  5. Sorry, my lawyerese is non-existent. What I mean is they were trying to push what the law to its breaking point and went over the edge, or so it seems.

  6. I see the trolls from CPC HQ are out in full force these days...

  7. "I see the trolls from CPC HQ are out in full force these days..."

    Amazing... I'm a simple sales manager for a manufacturer of remote controlled model planes. I don't work for the CPC, although I'll take that as a compliment to the skill with which I made my argument.

    "Sorry, my lawyerese is non-existent. What I mean is they were trying to push what the law to its breaking point and went over the edge, or so it seems."

    Except that their argument is that this is a common practice, and as I laid it out, it seems it is. Its not 'pushing the law' if it is a common practice.

    Now, if elections Canada decides that this shouldn't be legal, they should formally close the loophole and change the law to reflect that, and send a note to each of the parties to notify them. The problem is that Elections Canada is trying to penalize the CPC for a widely held belief (held by all three parties), engaging in a widely practiced procedure (done by all three parties), that all three parties believed in good faith to be legal and proper. The CPC filed this all up front in their filings with Elections Canada.

  8. But Paul, other than the Tories saying it is common place, I have not seen anyone else saying that. I have seen other parties saying they do transfer money from the national to local campaigns, but not to the point where they overspent their total national cap. It is the overspending that is the issue, not the transfer itself.

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