POLITICS
05/09/2019 13:10 EDT | Updated 05/09/2019 17:40 EDT

Dean Del Mastro, Ex-Tory MP Who Was Jailed, Claims Elections Canada Has 'Personal Vendetta' Against Him

He served as the parliamentary secretary to former prime minister Stephen Harper.

Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Dean Del Mastro, former member of Parliament for Peterborough, holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 9, 2019.

OTTAWA — A former Conservative MP who spent time behind bars for electoral offences is accusing Canada's elections commissioner of having a personal vendetta against him — and he wants a parliamentary investigation.

Dean Del Mastro was convicted of failing to report a $21,000 contribution he made to his own 2008 re-election campaign, overspending and knowingly filing a false report.

He spent nearly a month in jail in 2015 — an experience so difficult, he recalled on Thursday, that at certain points he never thought he'd make it out alive. He also said he's considering another run for public office, although perhaps not at the federal level.

Del Mastro, who still maintains his innocence, shared the details with reporters as he returned to Parliament Hill for a news conference, in which he urged lawmakers to launch a thorough investigation into the handling of his case.

Watch: Del Mastro calls for parliamentary probe

He wants any hearings to include testimony from elections commissioner Yves Cote, who's responsible for enforcing the Canada Elections Act.

"I think it was a personal vendetta — I think there were people within Elections Canada that determined that I needed to be taken out," said Del Mastro, who was the MP for Peterborough, Ont., and served as parliamentary secretary to former prime minister Stephen Harper.

"Ultimately, I believe that the manner in which I was treated represents malice on behalf of the commissioner of Canada elections. There's no other way to explain the treatment that I received versus the treatment that others did."

Del Mastro insisted elections officials were biased against him because of his role defending the Harper government as it dealt with a controversy about election robocalls.

A spokeswoman for the commissioner said Thursday that due to confidentiality laws she was unable provide details about Del Mastro's case and could not comment on his remarks about Cote.

But, said Michelle Laliberte, "we don't proceed with charges unless we have facts and evidence to support the laying of charges in any case."

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She noted Del Mastro's conviction was upheld after a number of appeals.

His push for a parliamentary probe comes amid renewed public discussion about the elections commissioner's decision to strike a so-called "compliance agreement" in 2016 with SNC-Lavalin.

Del Mastro maintained he never got a chance to reach a compliance agreement to avoid prosecution while Elections Canada negotiated deals in other cases, including one with Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.

The company reached the deal with Elections Canada after admitting executives who'd left the company by then had encouraged employees to give money to both the Liberal and Conservative parties on a promise they would be reimbursed. Reimbursing donors with company bonuses was a way to skirt an election law that forbids corporations from making political donations.

The Liberals got nearly $118,000 under the scheme, compared with the Tories' $8,000.

To reach a compliance agreement, however, a party must admit wrongdoing. Del Mastro insists he did nothing improper and that his case amounts to a difference of opinion on accounting.

Earlier: Del Mastro delivers emotional goodbye to Parliament

He said SNC-Lavalin's employees were all covered by the company's agreement with the elections commissioner. He argued some of the people the commissioner's office believed were involved said in later interviews with the CBC that they had done nothing wrong and his situation is little different.

The text of SNC-Lavalin's agreement says explicitly that it only covers the corporation's misdeeds, not those of any individual participants. Former company vice-president Normand Morin was charged personally a year ago with violating election rules in connection with the scheme and pleaded guilty to two counts last fall, including to soliciting the donations and arranging the reimbursements.

No other related charges have been laid to this point.

Del Mastro also brought up the case of Liberal MP Sven Spengemann, who admitted he broke election spending laws during his fight to win a tough nomination battle in a Toronto-area riding. Spengemann eventually reached a compliance agreement with the commissioner of elections.

Unlike Spengemann and SNC-Lavalin, Del Mastro insisted he was never invited to negotiate a compliance agreement.

Opens up on life behind bars

Now, he's hopeful a probe by Parliament could lead to a new trial and he maintains he has evidence that was never brought before a court.

Del Mastro also shared details of what life was like behind bars at a jail in Lindsay, Ont.

At first, he said, he spent 12 days in segregation because the warden feared he would be at risk among other inmates. But he asked to be moved to the general population, where he stayed for another eight days.

Segregation, he said, "is the craziest place on earth."

"People scream all night," said Del Mastro, who added he battled a sore back because he had no bed and no pillows.

"My cell had been graffitied inside with Satanic propaganda — all the walls, the ceiling. It was like being inside the mind of a crazy person. People kick the doors and scream, and it sounds like they're being tortured 24 hours a day."

When it comes to politics, he had a warning for those who have a "romantic" notion that political parties are teams whose members will always have each other's backs.

"What I now know is that political parties are actually a wolf pack and, as long as everybody's running together, everybody eats. But break your ankle and get injured, and ... you might well be their next meal."