12/10/2013 02:36 EST | Updated 02/09/2014 05:59 EST

Election Watchdog 'Overly Aggressive,' Conservative MP Argues


Conservative MP Scott Reid attacked Canada's election watchdog Tuesday, calling him "overly aggressive" and arguing it was "inappropriate" to notify the House Speaker about a dispute with an MP.

Marc Mayrand, the chief electoral officer who oversees Elections Canada, appeared before the procedure and House affairs committee to discuss the dispute between Elections Canada and Manitoba Conservative MP James Bezan.

Bezan has gone to court to fight the agency over whether he overspent in his 2006, 2008 and 2011 election campaigns. Elections Canada says the MP re-used signs and assessed them at a lower value because they were used, when the law requires the signs to be assessed at their purchase value.

The law's intent is to ensure incumbents don't have a financial advantage over new candidates.

Under the Canada Elections Act, MPs who don't comply with the rules for filing expenses can be barred from sitting or voting in the House. Mayrand wrote to House Speaker Andrew Scheer last May to tell him about the dispute with Bezan, MP for Selkirk-Interlake, Man., as well as with Shelly Glover, MP for Saint Boniface, Man.

MPs can go to court and ask to be relieved of the requirement to update their filings, something Bezan has done.

'Need to alert the speaker'

Reid attacked Mayrand for writing the letters to Scheer.

"You think that you are obliged to act before the courts have been consulted?" Reid asked Mayrand during the committee meeting.

"I feel that I need to alert the Speaker. I'm not taking a position on the right[s] of the member, simply advising the Speaker of the situation," Mayrand said.

Reid pointed out that meant they differ on whether Mayrand was wrong to do so.

"I think you acted in a manner the act does not require you to act and I think it was an overly aggressive manner which was frankly inappropriate. You disagree with that, which is cool. I would hope that you would be supportive of your own position of this," Reid said.

Reid asked Mayrand whether he felt the agency should investigate previous campaign overspending even if an MP won a subsequent election, essentially rendering moot the earlier result.

Mayrand referred to the section of the Canada Elections Act that applies to maintaining accurate campaign spending records.

"Section 463 doesn't make a difference between how long [ago] the election took place," Mayrand said.

"It's not because an election is gone that there's no longer a duty to account for that," he added.

"The whole purpose of the legislation is to ensure that there be accurate returns [filings]. And it's all about transparency and accountability for the expenditures and the transactions that occur during the campaign. And again, from time to time, information may require that returns be amended to reflect accurately what happened during that campaign."

Ontario MP Jeff Watson is facing a similar complaint by Elections Canada over his 2011 election spending.

Glover's campaign reached a compliance agreement with Elections Canada shortly before she was appointed to cabinet.

Bezan, in a June 4 statement, referred to the dispute as an accounting disagreement and said he had complied with the law.

This isn't the first time Conservative MPs have faced corrections to their campaign files, or even allegations of wrongdoing.

Last year, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue stepped down to run in a byelection after CBC News revealed his campaign had dramatically overspent and taken corporate donations, which aren't allowed under Canadian law. Penashue lost his re-election bid.

Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro has been charged with intentionally overspending in his 2008 campaign and trying to cover it up. Del Mastro maintains he ran a clean campaign.

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