Winnipeg Conservative MP Shelly Glover's about-face on what she paid two staffers during the 2011 federal election campaign mystifies a former Liberal official agent and infuriates another local MP.
As well, the fact that Glover's revisions have now put her over the allowable spending limit has other parties crying foul.
Reno Augellone, who was the official agent for Winnipeg Liberals Reg Alcock and Anita Neville from 2000 to 2011, describes Glover's fight with Elections Canada as "silly," since he believes it's very clear what the rules are.
"The rules are clear cut," he said. "If there is any ambiguity, Elections Canada, by far, is a very good resource. They have proper auditors and advisors, you could always call."
Augellone said it is also clear that any existing advertising, once the writ is dropped, has to be counted as a campaign expense, just as if someone donates a table to the campaign. He said strict monitoring is part of the process.
"Everyone wants to run the expenses right to the limit that you are allowed because there's part of the rebate that you can claim for expenses," he said.
"But you have to build in a buffer because you know there are expenses that will not be allowed."
Augellone said it doesn't make sense why Glover would claim one hourly rate for two staffers, then change it to a lower rate before reverting to the original claim.
"That just opens up a can of worms, I think, because no auditor's a fool," he said.
"They are going to look at names. They are going to match names to what they do. And you'll get questioned on it: 'Who's this person? What do they do?' You have to justify it."
Pat Rondeau, one of the staffers whose salary was changed, is listed on new documents Glover's office has filed with Elections Canada. Augellone said it's not out of the ordinary to see that she expensed a few items to the campaign, even if at one point Glover maintained she was only door-knocking at $10 an hour.
Augellone said Glover will likely face a fine at a minimum for spending over the allowable limit.
"This is an abuse of trust or just an arrogance towards it," he said.
Glover's story 'doesn't pass the smell test,' says MP
Other MPs say there is no reason Glover should be in the mess that she's in.
"It infuriates me, frankly," said Pat Martin, the NDP MP for Winnipeg Centre.
"We were told by our people that you overspend by a penny, you lose your seat and you're not allowed to run again for five years."
Martin said he had to pay for every sign he had up when the writ was dropped.
"I had to account for the total amount it took to put them in, even though I did it 15 years ago, and [their] monthly rent," he said. "Otherwise, if my competitor wanted a comparable sign, that's what it would cost him. So that's only fair."
Martin said he was always warned not to get anywhere near his spending limits and, in fact, he only spent about half of what he was allowed.
Martin echoed Augellone's comment that Elections Canada bends over backwards to help campaigns get their numbers right.
"They pull out all the stops to help official agents make their books right," he said, adding that he doesn't understand how staffers' salaries can be revised after the fact.
"It's just not plausible you could balance the books by changing the hourly wage retroactively of people you hired."
Martin's concern is what happens next: "My fear is there will be no penalty, or it'll be so paltry that on a cost-benefit analysis, it's worth it," he said.
"If you're going to get a $2,000 fine for having overspent your budget by $3,000 and maybe winning the election because you spent more than your opponent … that just makes a mockery of the election spending limits."
Timmins-James Bay NDP MP Charlie Angus, who is the party's ethics critic, said Glover's changing her story on her staffers' salaries raises red flags.
"It's a disturbing development that when she blew past the limits on spending that they went back, and basically staff had to give up their wages in order to bring her back into compliance," he said.
Angus said he felt for the people who worked hard on her campaign and can't understand why they'd give that money back.
"That people would retroactively give up money that they earned … that's a head scratcher for me," he said.
Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal MP Scott Andrews, that party's critic for access to information, privacy and ethics, agreed.
"It doesn't pass the smell test," Andrews said.
"Campaign staff is something you set out at the onset of your campaign. You know exactly how much it cost and how much you're going to get for the duration of your campaign — six weeks. So trying to change things after the fact looks really bad and very suspicious."
Decision could take some time
Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada's former chief electoral officer, says it may take some time before there is a decision in a case like Glover's.
"This is like any investigation by a police force, for example," he explained.
"They don't come out with periodic statements saying, 'We found this proof of evidence, we didn't find this kind of evidence.' This is an ongoing investigation and you cannot reveal piecemeal the different conclusions that you reach at different stages; otherwise, you obviate the whole process."
Kingsley said, however, that there are three possible outcomes.
Elections Canada can refer the file to the commissioner of Canada Elections, an independent agency, and the commissioner could decide that no further action is needed or that there has been an infraction but it was not done intentionally.
That could lead to a "compliance agreement," in which the offender would agree that he or she broke the law. The signed document would be posted on Elections Canada's website.
The third possibility is if evidence is found that the rules were knowingly broken, charges would be levied and the case would go to court.
Glover declined to comment on her elections expenses. Her office told CBC News that she has no idea when she will find out what, if any, penalty she will face for having overspent her limit
Kingsley said the issue of campaign overspending is important.
"The whole purpose of having spending limits is to level the playing field," he said.
"This is such a fundamental Canadian value in our electoral system…. Obviously overspending by $100 is not the same as overspending by $2,000 or $3,000, and that is not the same as overspending by $10,000 or $15,000 or $20,000. It's a matter of degree, and it is up to the commissioner to decide just how serious this is in terms of the alternatives that he pursues."
The issue of whether Glover will be permitted to continue sitting in the House of Commons has also yet to be determined.
Andrews said allowing Glover and Selkirk-Interlake MP James Bezan, who is also in a dispute with Elections Canada, to continue sitting the House breaches the privilege of MPs who complied with the agency's rules.
Andrews said the question is expected to be addressed in the fall session of Parliament.
Document: Glover's election spending
The document below was recently filed with Elections Canada and outlines most of St. Boniface MP Shelly Glover's election expenses during the 2011 campaign.
This document was not available online. CBC News had to obtain it by going to Elections Canada's office in Ottawa earlier this week.
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