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Tory MPs maintain they followed election spending rules

06/07/2013 10:33 EDT | Updated 08/07/2013 05:12 EDT
Two Conservative MPs from Manitoba are firing back at accusations from Canada's elections watchdog that they improperly filed expenses from the 2011 election.

Selkirk-Interlake MP James Bezan and St. Boniface MP Shelly Glover could face fines or lose their House privileges if a court case over those expenses is not resolved in their favour.

Both insisted on Friday their court fight with Elections Canada and Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand is an "accounting dispute" over the interpretation of the federal Elections Act.

"I look forward to receiving a judicial ruling on my campaign return which will ultimately provide direction to Elections Canada and my campaign to resolve our impasse," Bezan said during question period.

Said Glover, "Like the honourable member for Selkirk-Interlake, I believe I am in compliance with the Canada Elections Act. I did not break the law."

Glover and Bezan have filed applications in the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench to prevent themselves from being barred from the House of Commons.

The MPs are arguing with the agency over how they calculated the cost of signs they used during the 2011 election campaign.

Bezan's dispute has expanded to include the signs used in the previous two elections, while Glover is also fighting the agency over how to count her campaign staff's salaries.

'Unfair advantage,' says NDP candidate

Bevan and Glover have filed applications asking a Manitoba court to order Elections Canada to accept their expense returns and declare that they have "complied with the provisions" of the law.

If the campaign expenses are calculated in the way Elections Canada says the rules require, both MPs will have spent more than allowed under the law.

Mayrand has argued that essentially, letting incumbents claim their used signs at a reduced cost gives them more room to spend on other items.

"It gives an unfair advantage," said Sean Palsson, who ran in 2011 as an NDP candidate in Selkirk-Interlake.

All candidates must submit their expenses to Elections Canada, which holds the publicly available files along with related letters and emails.

Glover and Bezan argued that the signs they were already using or had used before should be valued at a lower cost than if they were new.

"My campaign has complied with the Canada Elections Act. My campaign has been straightforward with Elections Canada and has worked in good faith. All of my documents have been filed with a timely manner and appropriate amendments were made in accordance with the rules laid out by the act," said Bezan.

"This is an accounting dispute between the campaign and Elections Canada regarding the value of certain used highway signs that were originally installed several years ago. Elections Canada approved my campaign returns for the 2006 and 2000 elections, but have now changed their interpretation and are contradicting their own ruling, which is not consistent with the act's provisions."

Not a clear-cut case

Bezan will argue his case on Sept. 12 in Selkirk, while Glover's Court of Appeal date is June 21.

On Friday, House Speaker Andrew Scheer officially rejected opposition requests that he table letters he received from Mayrand last month, advising him that Bezan and Glover had rebuffed repeated requests to file corrections to past campaign returns.

Royce Koop, a political science professor at the University of Manitoba, said the dispute is far from being a clear-cut matter.

"It's basically a question of interpretation about expenses. It's not a clear case of the law being broken," he said.

Koop said this specific case may not seem like a huge deal, but it adds to other controversies that the Conservatives face.

"It's coming at a very bad time for the Conservatives. It comes at the tail end of more serious infractions, so we have to think about that too," he said.

"This particular story kind of contributes to the narrative about them in the media right now — this idea [that] they kind of make their own rules, they don't worry about other people's rules."

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