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Quebec Tories swapped ad expenses, Elections Canada alleges

TIM NAUMETZ

The Canadian Press

July 22, 2008 at 9:26 AM EDT

 

OTTAWA — The Conservative Party shifted thousands of dollars in advertising expenses from two of its top Quebec candidates to other Quebec candidates who had more spending room in their 2006 federal election campaigns, the lawyer for Elections Canada has suggested.

 

A former financial officer for the party confirmed last month in a court examination that expenses incurred by Public Works Minister Christian Paradis and former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier were assigned to other candidates.

 

But former chief financial officer Ann O'Grady said the expenses were “prorated” to the other candidates because the firm that placed the television and radio ads billed Mr. Paradis and Mr. Bernier for higher amounts than their campaign agents originally committed.

 

Elections Canada lawyer Barbara McIsaac probed Ms. O'Grady over records involving an eventual claim for $20,000 in radio and TV advertising by Mr. Paradis and $5,000 in advertising claimed by Mr. Bernier.

 

The financial statements and invoices – filed in a Federal Court case concerning $1.3-million in questionable Conservative ad expenses – also showed that Mr. Bernier and Mr. Paradis paid a fraction of the ad production costs compared with other Tory candidates.

 

Mr. Bernier and Mr. Paradis are among 67 Conservative candidates whose advertising expenditures are under investigation by the federal elections commissioner. Agents for some of the candidates took Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand to Federal Court after he refused last year to reimburse the expenditures on grounds that they did not qualify as local candidate expenses.

 

The Commons ethics committee is also conducting an inquiry into the bookkeeping, which Elections Canada alleges allowed the Conservative party to exceed its national campaign spending limit by more than $1-million.

 

The Canada Elections Act prohibits candidates from absorbing or sharing the election expenses of other candidates.

 

NDP MP Pat Martin, a member of the ethics committee, said if the party did shift expenses from Mr. Bernier and Mr. Paradis to other candidates it would add an entirely new dimension to the controversy.

 

“I can't get (fellow NDP MP) Judy Wasylycia-Leis to put $5,000 of my expenses into her expenses,” Mr. Martin said. “That's absolutely not allowed.”

 

In a sworn cross-examination last month, the transcript of which was subsequently entered in the Federal Court file, Ms. McIsaac pressed Ms. O'Grady about advertising and ad production costs that were transferred from Mr. Bernier and Mr. Paradis to other candidates.

 

Ms. McIsaac challenged Ms. O'Grady's explanations that the expenditures were reassigned because the candidates had been mistakenly invoiced for more than the amounts their official agents originally committed for the campaign.

 

“I'm going to suggest to you that Mr. Bernier was less than $2,590 from his spending limit and that he couldn't afford to put the additional amount into his return,” Ms. McIsaac said to Ms. O'Grady.

 

“That would be total supposition,” Ms. O'Grady responded. “Who knows what else would have been going on at the time? I can't comment on how Mr. Bernier ran his campaign.”

 

In the case of Mr. Paradis, Ms. O'Grady conceded that the candidate had originally committed his campaign to a media buy totalling $30,000, was eventually invoiced $29,766 and subsequently received a “credit note” of $10,000 that was reallocated to another candidate, Marc Nadeau.

 

“Now, again, the reason for this was that Mr. Paradis had reached his limit with respect to spending as well, is that correct?” Ms. McIsaac asked. “He had to allocate some of his money to Mr. Nadeau, did he not, because he was close to his limit?”

 

“I would not know that,” replied Ms. O'Grady, who replaced former Tory chief financial agent Susan Kehoe several months after the election.

 

Ms. McIsaac also questioned Ms. O'Grady over the fact that Mr. Bernier paid no production costs for his share of the advertising. Mr. Paradis paid only $233.93 for his share, even though Ms. McIsaac said other candidates paid $4,500 each for production costs.

 

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