Friday, October 26, 2007

There's a cold wind a blowin' up there in Ottawa

It's called a libel chill. The Conservatives are threatening to sue the Liberals for allegedly defamatory statements surrounding the allegations that the Conservatives' overspent in the last federal election to the tune of $1.2 million. The lawsuit threats no doubt prompted because this is a very serious matter. Because the Conservatives' current troubles with Elections Canada go to the very heart of the rationale for electing the Conservatives to their minority government in 2006. That rationale was that they were not the "corrupt" Liberals, as Harper and his crew repeatedly alleged.

So talk about Conservatives having overspent and their candidate expenses being disallowed by Elections Canada - that kind of thing is just not on for the Conservatives, thus, the lawsuit threats. As their plans for an election are still likely in their forebrains, they can't have the public's focus be on an issue that mucks up their "government is clean" slogan.

The optics on this are terrible. A frequent criticism of Harper and the Conservatives is that their tactics are too heavy-handed, even bully-ish. The lawsuit threats certainly do not help them on that score. The appearance is that they want to quash this story.
The Conservative Party of Canada is threatening legal action against the Liberals over language they've used to describe an investigation into Tory spending practices.

Lawyers fired off a letter to the president and executive director of the Liberal Party, saying a number of Tory staffers have been defamed in a recent opposition news release on the so-called in and out scheme being examined by Elections Canada.

The electoral watchdog is investigating whether several dozen Tory candidates and their official agents improperly claimed local advertising expenses during the last campaign for ads that were national in nature. The Liberals have hammered the Conservatives on the issue daily since Parliament returned this fall.

"This letter is ... intended to serve as notice that it is defamatory to suggest or imply that these individuals have engaged in illegal conduct," writes party lawyer Paul Lepsoe. "In particular, it is defamatory to suggest or imply that the positions these individuals have or have had on ministers' staffs are 'rewards' for having engaged in illegal conduct.

"Our clients reserve their rights to take such action as they deem appropriate against the Liberal Party of Canada and others ... ."

The Liberal release, attributed to MP Dominic LeBlanc on Tuesday, refers to an "apparent scheme to violate election spending limits" and "serious allegations." It also underlined that 11 former candidates and agents went on to find government positions.

"One has to wonder if there is a connection between their willingness to participate and employment by this Conservative government," Mr. LeBlanc said in the statement.

Mr. LeBlanc said yesterday he has never said that anybody broke the law.

"What we have said is that Elections Canada has found that 66 Conservative filings did not, in their view, respect the election legislation," Mr. LeBlanc told reporters. "That's why they have begun an investigation and rejected a series of refunds that the candidates have claimed."
Let's not forget that this issue came to light because former Conservative candidates blew the whistle on the federal party and have spoken publicly about how uncomfortable they were about the "in and out scheme." And the Globe has editorialized about how inappropriate this entire mess looks given the hypocrisy of the Conservatives' campaign in the 2006 election. It's about the text of the elections law, absolutely, but it's also about the spirit of those election laws that hold federal parties to limits.

This is an issue that needs to see a lot of day light. I am confident that the opposition will not be at all intimidated by this tactic and will continue to hold the government's feet to the fire.