POLITICS

Elections Canada fights lengthy battles over campaign expense reporting

06/07/2013 11:03 EDT | Updated 08/07/2013 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - The official agent for former Conservative MP Wajid Khan has been fined $400 by an Ontario Provincial Court after failing to provide full documentation for Khan's 2008 election expenses.

Paul Gallardo pleaded guilty under the Canada Elections Act, and the court ordered him to provide all outstanding information to the elections watchdog within six months. He could be cited with contempt of court if he fails to comply, according to Elections Canada.

Gallardo was charged last September, almost four years after the 2008 election campaign in which Khan, a former Liberal who crossed the floor to the Conservatives in January 2007, lost his seat to a Liberal challenger.

Lengthy battles between federal candidates, or their agents, and Elections Canada over disputed campaign expenses are not uncommon.

Darcy Allan Bedard was fined a total of $2,500 in January 2012 for three charges of "wilfully" failing to comply with Elections Canada on the 2006 campaign return of Liberal candidate Bruce Benson.

Amandeep Gill, who worked for Alberta Liberal candidate Brad Carroll, faces two charges for failing to provide 2008 expense documents.

Michel Paulette, a Conservative candidate in the 2006 election, faces three charges under the Elections Act, accused of filing "false and misleading" information, or encouraging his official agent to do so.

And Harvey Venier, the official agent for former Conservative MP Jim Abbott, faces five charges stemming from the 2006 and 2008 elections, including filing a "false report" in 2008.

Far less common is a battle currently playing out in the House of Commons.

Elections Canada has written to Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer requesting that two Conservative MPs — James Bezan and Shelley Glover — be suspended because they too have failed to comply with expense issues from the 2011 election.

The two Manitoba MPs are challenging Elections Canada in court, and Scheer initially ruled that he would not suspend them pending resolution of their court cases.

Opposition MPs have questioned Scheer's decision and their point of privilege was debated Friday in the Commons.

"This issue is effectively a question of accounting interpretation," Bezan said in the House.

"The Canada Elections Act provides me with the legal ability to challenge Elections Canada. I will be exercising my right to be heard by a court of law."

Glover similarly told the Commons hers was "simply a disagreement between my campaign and Elections Canada as to interpretations applicable to certain expenses."

Outside the chamber, Manitoba New Democrat Pat Martin noted that some 60 candidates contested ridings in the province in 2011 — and only two are disputing Elections Canada's interpretation of the rules.

He said Glover and Bezan are "pushing the envelope" to ensure their expenses don't exceed set campaign spending limits.

"If you read the Elections Act the way I read the Elections Act, then, yes, they did, they're way over their head," said Martin.

The NDP will make its formal submission on the matter to the Speaker next week, but the party's democratic reform critic Craig Scott said he's concerned about an abuse of the court system to avoid accountability.

"We know that the Conservatives have been very good at using the courts to delay and obstruct," said Scott.

"There can't be a blank cheque for going into court and then ultimately not having this resolved for another two years."