House of Commons Hansard #84 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

10:35 a.m.

Mégantic—L'Érable
Québec

Conservative

Christian Paradis Secretary of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, my colleague spoke of the rules of law—I know he is a lawyer by training. He knows very well that there are legal proceedings underway, there are concurrent proceedings before the courts. The courts are involved; the judges will have to decide. However, some people seem to enjoy finding the Conservative Party guilty even though the matter is before the courts.

In these proceedings, the Conservative Party has co-operated with Elections Canada and yet they showed up with a search warrant. Even more surprising—and this is what I would like my colleague to comment on—what about the fact that a Liberal Party cameraman was on the scene even before the RCMP?

We can talk about the rules of law or fine principles, but there is a practical matter that is very surprising, if not frightening. I would like his views on this.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am unable to answer as to the presence of one or any cameraman. My question to the member who referred earlier to cooperation between the Conservative Party and Elections Canada is: Why was a search necessary then?

If I volunteer to show him my bank book and show him my Caisse populaire passbook, that is cooperation on my part, and he is welcome to come and see it in all good faith. But if he has to seek a search warrant from the RCMP to check my bank account, is that cooperation? That does not make sense. It is complete nonsense.

I would have liked the parliamentary secretary to tell this house whether or not he is among the 67 under investigation by Elections Canada. Did he get a refund?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite engaged in considerable outrage but what would he say if we told him the truth, which is that no request by Elections Canada was denied by our party? Everything it asked for it received. It was quite inexplicable for Elections Canada to show up with the RCMP. There was no reason for that. How would he respond?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, if there was free access and cooperation, why did the RCMP have to conduct a search? That is because there was no cooperation. This is an attempt at putting up a smokescreen, but it is not working. We are not buying it—

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the President of Treasury Board has the floor.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

10:40 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, today's dispute arose from the fact that Conservative candidates spent Conservative funds on Conservative advertising. This process was helped along by a series of transfers to and from the national party and its local candidates.

All parties do precisely the same thing to help finance local campaigns but Elections Canada decided that it would single out just one party. Therefore, our party took Elections Canada to court. We put all the documents on the table and planned to have a fair hearing before the courts.

However, one day, before it was set to face questioning over its conduct, Elections Canada decided to interrupt that court proceeding by barging into Conservative headquarters with Liberal Party cameras in tow.

Let us then break down the accusation that Elections Canada is making. We will break it down into four questions.

First, is it legal for the national Conservative Party to transfer funds to local ridings? Yes, it is perfectly legal. We will see examples later of millions of dollars that the other parties transferred from the national party to local candidates.

Second, is it legal for local candidates to run advertising with national content? It is not only legal but a right guaranteed by the Charter, which allows local candidates to say what they want in their advertising. In my entire political life, I have never seen a local campaign that did not mention national issues.

Third, is it legal for local candidates to purchase advertising from the national party? Yes, it happens all the time, especially in the Bloc. I will quote examples of millions of dollars being spent by local candidates to purchase products from the national party.

Fourth, is it legal for local candidates to pay for advertising that ran outside their own constituencies? Yes, it is not only legal, it is unavoidable.

I would like to elaborate on these four points of the debate. Is it legal for a national party to transfer funds to local ridings?

I want to start by giving an example. The Bloc Québécois transferred some $732,000 to its local candidates in the 2006 elections and about $1.5 million in the 2004 elections. If they think that is illegal, they should apologize now to the voters of Quebec and Canada for having broken the law.

The Liberal Party itself, according to Andrew Coyne, a very prominent Canadian author, has reported that the Liberal Party transfers in the neighbourhood of $1.5 million from its national campaign to its local campaign. These millions of dollars in transfers, which happen regularly in campaigns, are designed to help local candidates finance their operations. Oftentimes those local candidates do not have the money to do so and parties are therefore permitted to step in and help.

That brings me to the second question: Is it legal for local candidates to run advertising with national content? It is not just legal; it is standard practice. Let us review the candidate handbook of Elections Canada. It reads:

Election advertising means the transmission to the public by any means during an election period of an advertising message that promotes or opposes a candidate, including one that takes a position on an issue with which a registered party or candidate is associated.

These are the rules that candidates must follow in buying advertising. They indicate that a candidate can support or oppose a national party in those ads.

Members do not have to accept my interpretation. I will now quote the then chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley. In his report on the 1997 election he stated that, “It is perfectly permissible for local campaigns to expense advertising with national content”.

He was writing in the section of the report dealing with rules related to the blackout. There used to be at a time in Canadian elections a blackout on national advertising in the last 48 hours before the polls closed. That meant that on the Sunday before and the Monday of an election national parties were not allowed to run advertising.

However, there were no such constraints on local campaigns. In other words, local ads were allowed in the last 48 hours of an election; national ads were not.

Naturally, this raised the question of what constituted a national ad and what constituted a local ad. Would it be the content of the ad that determined which level claimed the expense or reported the ad? If there was national content, would it necessarily be considered a national advertisement? If the content was discussing local issues, would it then necessarily be considered a local advertisement? According to Mr. Kingsley, no. It was the tag line on the ad that determined whether it would be counted nationally or locally. Let me quote from the 1997 report:

The content of the advertisements accepted was subject only to the freedom of expression guaranteed by the charter. As a result, a number of individual candidates purchased time on the day before and on the actual day of the election. Since the time purchased was often used to run national advertisements with local tag lines, this rendered the prohibition somewhat ineffectual. In other words, because these national advertisements had local tag lines [wrote Kingsley] they became local and were no longer subject to the national limits on advertising.

Mr. Kingsley did not like the fact that national ads could be rendered local with the addition of a mere local tag line. He did not like the way the rules were written. However, it does not matter what he wanted the rules to be. What matters is what the rules were.

I understand that Mr. Kingsley and Elections Canada might recently, in the last several months, have changed their mind, changed their interpretation. I tell them, and all Canadians, that it is not their role to change the rules after the game has been played. I understand they have now amended, retroactively, the candidate handbook in order to forbid the practice that our party engaged in. However, they did that after the election was over and they, therefore, cannot apply those new rules retroactively.

The third question is: Is it legal for local candidates to purchase advertising from the national party? Yes.

According to Andrew Coyne, the local Liberal campaigns purchased $1.3 million in goods and services from the party in the last election without provoking Election Canada's wrath. Second, local candidates purchase advertising and other products from national campaigns all the time.

There is another example from the Bloc. It billed its local candidates $820,000 for the 2006 elections and $936,000 in goods and services for the 2004 elections.

The Bloc is very familiar with this practice as well. In fact, the Bloc transfers large numbers of dollars from the central campaign to local candidates and then those local candidates transfer back large numbers of dollars to purchase products and services from the national campaign. This benefits the Bloc because it allows those local candidates to claim refunds on moneys that were originally in the hands of the central party. But, it is allowed.

The local campaign of the NDP member for Vancouver East in the 2006 election also participated in an in and out operation. In this case, the third party media invoices were made out to the national party rather than the official agents of the local candidates. A group of Vancouver area candidates for the NDP came together, bought advertising, but it was all organized by the central party. None of these local campaigns had any contact with the advertiser. They did not even get a direct invoice from the advertiser. They simply purchased the ads from the national party, but claimed it as a local expense entitling them to the refunds that Elections Canada provides to local candidates.

There is an invoice from the national office of the NDP to the official agent for the member for Vancouver East for her campaign that reads “Election period radio advertising paid by the federal party” in the amount of $2,612. This invoice was paid to the national office by the local campaign by a cheque dated March 31, 2006. That same day the local campaign received a transfer of funds from the NDP national office for $2,600, virtually the same amount as the invoice. What happened was that the national party bought a national advertisement for 11 candidates in the Vancouver area. The national party coordinated all of the ad buy. The national party paid for the advertisement, received the invoice in its name from the advertising companies, and then billed the local campaigns.

In the case of the member for Vancouver East, not only did the national party bill her campaign but it actually sent her a cheque so that she could pay for that bill. The money came from the national party, went to her local riding association, followed by an invoice from the national party for almost exactly the same amount of dollars. The money went into her account, out of her account, and paid for an advertisement that she did not organize, that she was not involved in securing. But interestingly enough, this in and out operation did not raise any curiosity at Elections Canada.

All of this information is well documented and the in and out nature of this specific transaction is set out in an email to the campaign from the NDP national office which states in part, “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”. So the national party, in writing, says it will pay for the ads, it will transfer the money into the local account to pay for these ads, and the local campaign gets to claim them as an expense and achieve a refund. Local campaigns purchase products including advertising from national campaigns all the time. It is a regular occurrence.

The fourth question: Is it legal for local candidates to pay for advertising that also ran outside of their constituencies? Yes, it is not only legal. It is unavoidable. I represent southwest Ottawa in the House of Commons and I have purchased radio advertisements in the lead-up to elections here in this city. It is impossible for me to purchase broadcast advertising exclusively in my constituency. Ottawa stations run deep into western Quebec and in the opposite direction almost to Kingston.

In other words, when I buy a radio advertisement in my constituency, it probably gets broadcast into about 15 constituencies around the area. It is not possible to block the radio signal and ensure that it only runs in my own personal constituency. However, I am still allowed as a candidate to claim it as a local expense even though it had a broad reach to listeners in other ridings.

Let me summarize the situation. Elections Canada implies that the Conservative Party transferred party funds to the local ridings, the local ridings purchased advertising from the national party, this advertising had a national content, and in some cases, advertising ran outside the ridings in which it was bought. My question is: where is the offence?

I am going to repeat the questions. First, is it legal for the national Conservative Party to transfer funds to the local ridings? Yes. It is not only legal, it is standard practice.

Second, is it legal for local candidates to run advertising with national content? It is not only legal, it is a right guaranteed by the Charter, which allows local candidates to say what they want in their advertising, as Mr. Kingsley said.

Third, is it legal for local candidates to buy advertising from the national party? Yes. It happens all the time. I just provided numerous examples of local candidates for the Bloc Québécois purchasing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods, services and other things from their national party.

Fourth, is it legal for local candidates to pay for advertising that ran outside their own constituencies? It is not only legal, it is unavoidable, as I just described using my own riding as an example. My advertising has to run outside the boundaries of the riding I represent.

We could go on and discuss examples of where other parties have engaged in exactly the same practices. I will refer to the member for Beauséjour who, in addition to being a fine, hard-working member of Parliament, followed the same practices that we did in the last federal election when he bought common advertisements with other members of the New Brunswick Liberal team. Let me cite an example.

The member of Parliament for Beauséjour and the other New Brunswick Liberals joined in a regional media buy in the 2006 election organized by the national party. The copy of the cheque provided by Elections Canada from local official agents, the local financial officers in the campaigns, for the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, who also participated in the buy, is made out not to the newspaper in which the ad ran, but it is made out instead to the Liberal Party of Canada. In other words, the Liberal Party did the purchasing of this advertisement. The Liberal Party of Canada purchased the ad.

The contents of the ad, which I have seen by the way, are entirely national in scope, with the exception of a small, local tag line. Here is where it gets very interesting. While the member for Beauséjour is mentioned in the tag line as having paid for the ad, the advertisement says that he and his campaign paid for it, despite that fact, there is no apparent listing of any payments for these ads from the election return that that member of Parliament and his campaign submitted to Elections Canada. I do not know if he went on to correct that mistake later on, but there is an ad that ran in the last election in New Brunswick which says that he paid for it. It was not paid by him, at least not originally, and it was not counted in his election return as having been covered by his campaign.

I do not know if that means there was a transfer from the national party to help pay for the advertisement. We know that transfers happen very regularly in the Liberal Party. There was over $1 million in transfers during that campaign. I am not sure if those expenses are hidden somewhere else, but what is very clear is that a national party organized a nationally focused advertisement in the New Brunswick area, that there were numerous members of Parliament who participated, that the invoice from the advertising company went to the Liberal Party and not to the local campaigns, and that the local campaigns then purchased the ad from the national party. These are all the same characteristics of the alleged breach for which Elections Canada carried out its visit to our office.

I have a whole book full of examples, and there are many more outside of this book, of where parties and members of this House have engaged in transfers, have bought products from their national parties, have run national content in locally expensed advertisements, have done all of the exact same things that Elections Canada accuses the Conservative Party of Canada of doing.

It is for that reason that our party is confident in its case. That is why we have taken Elections Canada to court. We want it to uphold the rules as it has in the past interpreted them so that we can get on with the job of continuing to provide good, solid, honest government for the Canadian people.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

11 a.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have two questions for my colleague.

First, since he keeps talking about regional advertising and seems to approve that approach, I would like him to explain to me how come the Conservative candidate in the riding of Hull—Aylmer, in Western Quebec, was involved in advertising in Quebec City in the last election.

Second, I will again use as an example the riding of Hull—Aylmer, where the candidate received almost $50,000 from the Conservative Party and included that amount in his list of expenses. Since about 60% of these expenses are reimbursed by Elections Canada, it means that about $30,000 of this $50,000 would have been reimbursed by Elections Canada using taxpayers' money.

I would like to know if, according to the Conservative Party's practices, this $30,000 now belongs to the Hull—Aylmer Conservative riding association or if the riding association or the candidate in the last election had to return the money to the Conservative Party of Canada.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

11 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

First, the member asked me how a candidate in Hull—Aylmer could have bought advertising seen in Quebec City. I am not aware of this particular case because I did not follow that campaign. However, I can certainly tell him, as I said earlier, that it is nearly impossible now to buy ads that are seen only in the region where they are bought. In Quebec, many television programs are broadcast throughout “la belle province”. If the candidate bought an ad in Hull, it is very possible that all Quebeckers may have had the pleasure of seeing it.

Second, he talked about the reimbursement of expenses. I think he said that that particular candidate was reimbursed by Elections Canada. If Elections Canada did decide to reimburse the Conservative candidate in Hull—Aylmer, it certainly was an excellent decision and I would congratulate Elections Canada for following its own rules for once.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

11 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would expect a minimum of intellectual honesty from the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board. I would also like to settle the matter once and for all. When he quotes the report published after the 36th general election by the former Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, he should quote the whole paragraph and not only the sentence that suits him. That would make a big difference. By quoting only parts of sentences one can give a false impression.

I want to come back to the issue for one last time to have it on the record. The Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board must quote the whole Kingsley report. Since he probably does not know, I will inform him that Mr. Kingsley was commenting on the Somerville v. Canada (Attorney General) case from 1996, which had been heard in the Alberta Court of Appeal. By the way, Somerville was suing the Attorney General in the name of the National Citizens Coalition, a group that the present Prime Minister knows very well because he took Elections Canada in court.

That case he quotes was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1997, in the Libman v. Quebec (Attorney General) case. So, let us get our facts straight.

I would like the Conservatives to stop playing the victim and saying that all parties did it, in order to justify their own actions. We have all had our election expenses reimbursed after producing our election reports, but not the Conservatives.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is why we are suing Elections Canada. All parties do the same thing, but Elections Canada chose to target only one.

I have here some very interesting documents. Canadian taxpayers should know that the Bloc finances its local campaigns almost entirely with funds from the national party.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

11:05 a.m.

An hon. member

Come on.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

11:05 a.m.

An hon. member

That is not true.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Let me state the facts. The Bloc Québécois transferred $732,000 to local candidates during the 2006 election.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

11:05 a.m.

An hon. member

Where?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada
Business of Supply
Government Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

And the local candidates paid their national party $820,000.

Regarding this amount of $732,000 that the Bloc Québécois transferred to its candidates for local spending, I wonder if local candidates were reimbursed by Elections Canada? Can the hon. member tell the House if Canadian taxpayers had to reimburse the money transferred to local candidates?