Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Elections Canada appeals the in-and-out ruling

This news was pretty much expected, no matter who won the lower court ruling regarding the in-and-out advertising litigation that's been going on since about 2006: "Elections Canada appeals ruling that OK'd Tory ad spending in 2006 campaign." From the preliminary report, which doesn't contain any Conservative reaction, but we can guess as to what that might be:
Elections Canada is appealing a court ruling that rejected its claim of illegal spending by the Conservative party during the 2006 federal election campaign.

Federal Court Judge Luc Martineau last month dismissed the watchdog's allegation that 67 Tory candidates illegally claimed advertising costs that should have been reported as national campaign expenses.

The ruling allowed the Tories to dodge the prospect of having illegally exceeded their national campaign spending limit by more than $1 million.

However, Elections Canada says it will appeal, arguing that campaign spending limits will be rendered meaningless if the ruling is allowed to stand.
That last part is the nub of it and a principle worth pursuing. Elections law experts have found over time that Canadians support spending limits in our elections regime as opposed to the American system which is becoming an unrestrained corporate playground. Do we want an elections regime where the party with the most money has the loudest voice or do we want an equal playing field? That's what the in-and-out challenge represents, a test of that principle. Theoretically, the in-and-out game could net a party millions in election spending advantage over other parties. How that situation might be allowed to stand when our Elections Act contains national party spending limits is the big question.

This case is likely to make it to the Supreme Court of Canada so it is far from over.

As for the Harper government, I would expect them to respectfully defer to Election Canada's right of appeal, Elections Canada being an independent institution of government and all. After all, Lawrence Cannon was instructing Afghanistan just yesterday on the need to respect electoral institutions:
“While we have yet to receive the official translation of President Karzai’s decree amending Afghanistan’s electoral law, we are troubled by early reports that the decree could diminish the level of independence of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). A strong and independent ECC is vital for the future of a democratic Afghanistan, and any efforts to weaken this body are disturbing. (emphasis added)
Probably wishful thinking. What's more likely is that the government is preparing to launch another attack on Elections Canada's impartiality. But I guess we shall see.

Update (6:50 p.m.): The Citizen updates its report with a bit more detail of the appeal, including that 30 errors in the judgment are alleged. Still no reaction from Conservative land.

Update (6:55 p.m.): Here they are:
Conservative party spokesman Fred DeLorey expressed disappointment that Elections Canada is appealing the ruling.

"Although we are not surprised, it is disappointing that Elections Canada is continuing this after the courts said they were wrong," DeLorey said.

"They've already wasted millions of dollars on this."

DeLorey maintained Martineau's ruling does nothing to change spending limits on national or local campaigns.
Predictable slag on Elections Canada, there you go.