Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Conservatives suing Elections Canada...again

Wouldn't it be nice to have a government that wasn't constantly at war with somebody or something? Hmmm? Think it would. But news in the past day has uncovered more courtroom combat from the Conservatives in the form of yet another lawsuit against Elections Canada: "Tories take Elections Canada to court over GST rebate." You'd be hard pressed to find a Prime Minister who has sued the political institutions of government as much as this one. The Cadman litigation against the Liberals, the first in-and-out litigation case arising out of Conservative overspending in the 2006 federal election, now's like a hobby for Mr. Harper. So let's try to figure out where they are going with this little gem. As you will see below, it appears to be all about sticking it to the Liberals. Because, well, isn't everything for Mr. Harper?

In terms of the mechanical details here, this suit appears to be designed to increase the Conservative party's national spending limit during a campaign. They get there by arguing that after the fact GST rebates should be taken into account to reduce what a campaign's real expenditure numbers are. They are essentially saying if Elections Canada is going to refund us $600,000 after the election anyway, then the real cost of expenditures is also $600,000 less. This creates room to spend more. Further, the Conservatives say, since we therefore spent less on expenditures, then we got too much of a rebate from Elections Canada in 2004 & 2006 when they assessed us on the "too high" expenditures. So please take back X$ in excess rebate, Elections Canada. Oh...and go get the Liberals too.

So there are a few effects here...

One, their overspending in the 2006 federal election that they've been dinged for (the "in-and-out" spending scheme) may be less than the $1.2 million. Provided that the court accepts their argument here, in this new case.

But that's curious...why aren't they raising the above argument in the ongoing civil lawsuit they presently have going on against Elections Canada over the 2006 in-and-out scheme? Have they tried and were refused? Is that case going badly so they've launched this new lawsuit? Don't know. But at the end of the day they'd still be in breach of the national spending limit, albeit by a lesser amount. The appropriate penalties would still apply.

No, what this really may be about is attempting to financially hurt Liberals, who also received a GST rebate in 2004 and 2006. If the court here were to accept that the Conservative interpretation of the rules is correct, then the Liberals would possibly have to pay back what would likely be a sizable sum as well. (The NDP, the report notes, has not applied for a GST rebate). But perspective, there's no guarantee they will be successful in this litigation. The Chief Electoral Officer has already nixed the scheme. The Conservatives are climbing up hill in making this argument.

To sum up, hurting the Liberals while simultaneously increasing their own spending limit...that sounds about right in terms of Conservative motives and notions of equity. After all, what is all that money they're raising for if they can't use it to find more ways to break the level playing field of our national election spending limits?