Monday, April 06, 2009

About that Guergis mailer

Updated (3:45 p.m., see below)...

Since it has become a bit of a self-assigned task in pursuing the exploits of this MP...consider this post a loose end to be tied up. There remains a bit of an unresolved issue, politically anyway, in Simcoe-Grey, MP Helena Guergis' riding over the issue of an MP "householder" that Guergis sent out on the eve of the election and which landed in citizen mailboxes during the election campaign. Guergis promised to pay for the householder in her campaign expenses but ultimately, did not.

Elections Canada says this on the issue:
In order for an expense to be an election expense, the property or service for which the expense was incurred must be used during an election period. On the specific question of householders, a householder sent prior to the issue of the writs for a general election would not be considered to be an election expense. A householder sent after the issuance of the writ would be an election expense if it otherwise met the requirements of an election expense.

A regular question arises respecting the issue of writs while householders are in transit. A householder will be considered to be issued when the MP no longer has the ability to stop its delivery. Thus, a householder that is in transit before the drop of a writ and has reached the stage where the MP no longer has the ability to stop its delivery prior to the drop of that writ will not be considered to have been used during the election period even if its actual delivery to the recipient takes place during the election.
That position is dated 2006 on the Elections Canada website but it was reiterated during the fall election:
Dana Doiron of Elections Canada says the householders can be sent during an election campaign as long as it left the MPs hands before the election writs are issued.

“If, however, it leaves their hands after the writs then it is something that is considered an election expense and they should declare it,” Doiron told The Guardian.
So it appears that if the Guergis householder left her hands prior to the writ, it's not an election expense. No matter how unfair it might seem for an MP to gain the thousands of dollars in publicity advantage over their opponents. Other MPs do it as well, from other parties, but they don't have the advantage of knowing when an election call will occur. So the taxpayer paid for the news from Ms. Guergis spread across her riding during the election call, according to the rules.

Now whether someone wants to press this with Elections Canada and have them require that Ms. Guergis prove the timing of her householder, that's certainly an option (it was cut close, with a September 5th riding announcement being mentioned in the householder when the election call was September 7th). But if she can prove the householder was in transit, as it sounds like she likely would, there's no issue. Politically there might be in a future election if ultimately a candidate can tell a persuasive story about Ms. Guergis to the voters of Simcoe Grey in order to defeat her. Death by a thousand paper cuts, probably not.

Update (3:45 p.m.): In case you missed it, check out the editorial by Tony Veltri at one of the media outfits in Simcoe-Grey. Ms. Guergis clearly has her, ahem, "fans" in the local media there which her recent riding "interactions" or lack thereof with the media have no doubt contributed to in this whole maelstrom. What should have been an easy issue to diffuse has not been so easy and Veltri provides a more conversational, local perspective about the ire of voters there.

Secondly, I likely should have paid more attention to Ms. Guergis' promise breaking. And treatment of the local media as emblematic of the Conservative attitude toward accountability. That they feel they can make promises and so easily break them is one more reason to look at this incident as a case study in how they blame anyone but themselves (here the media, an "auditor") as a rationale for not doing the right thing.

Third, if Ms. Guergis thinks this is a minor issue that won't cause any problems in the future...she should consider the media attention to this in her riding and the obvious interest from constituents. There's an opening for someone to take a serious run at winning this riding, let's hope it happens.