Monday, February 28, 2011

Elections Act charges make Pierre Poilievre a very shy parliamentarian

Be very, very quiet about the Elections Act charges. Do not get heated in responding to opposition questions. Do not inflame the very delicate situation that finds the Conservative party embroiled in a situation where a number of its 2006 election campaign officials have been charged with Elections Act offences. Charges which make them look like they don't play by the rules of our democracy, some of the most foundational rules that there are. So be very, very quiet as they carry along their merry way to an election campaign where they think that Canadians won't care about such matters.

That is the Conservative strategy, quite comically executed in Question Period today. Pierre Poilievre whispered away the afternoon, meekly transmitting the Conservative talking point line on the Elections Act charges:
...A QUESTION FOR THE PRIME MINISTER AND THE GOVERNMENT, IS DO THEY NOT UNDERSTAND THAT PLAYING FAST AND LOOSE WITH CANADA'S ELECTION LAW UNDERMINES CANADIAN DEMOCRACY?

The Speaker: THE HONOURABLE; ORDER. THE HONOURABLE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE PRIME MINISTER.

Mr. SPEAKER, I THANK THE HONOURABLE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION FOR HIS QUESTION. THIS, OF COURSE, IS A FIVE-YEAR-OLD ACCOUNTING DISPUTE. UNFORTUNATELY, THE FEDERAL COURT HAS RULED IN FAVOUR OF THE CONSERVATIVE -- FORTUNATELY, THE FEDERAL COURT HAS RULED IN FAVOUR OF THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY AND AGAINST ELECTIONS CANADA. THANKS VERY MUCH.
"Thanks very much." Thank you twice over in fact. A new leaf of pleasantry from the Conservatives. Smile away and thanks for the question. Oh, and one line, that's all you get, Canada.

Now about that one line, it's not so hunky dory for the Conservatives, no matter how much they keep hyping that win at the Federal Court trial division. The case is under appeal. As part of the appeal process, Elections Canada moved for a stay on the trial ruling. Why? Well, here's how fantastic the lower court victory that Poilievre repeatedly touted today actually is for the Conservatives. The Conservatives are actually appealing part of that judgment because it leaves them in great jeopardy:
But now the Tories are also appealing, hoping to strike down a little-noticed section of the judgment that would mean up to 10 candidates — including Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Josée Verner and former minister Maxime Bernier — exceeded their campaign spending limits in 2006.

If the ruling is allowed to stand, the four sitting Tories and up to six former candidates could face charges. If convicted, they could be barred from running again or even be barred from sitting in the House of Commons, much less cabinet.

Because of the potentially grave consequences, Elections Canada is asking that Justice Luc Martineau’s ruling be stayed until the appeals are completed.

“These nine or 10 candidates could face prosecution and, if convicted, face significant consequences,” the independent elections watchdog argued in an affidavit filed with the Federal Court of Appeal late last month.

“In particular, three could lose their current appointments as ministers.”

“Apart from any conviction, this option would cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election of the four candidates . . . who are current members of Parliament.”
Not so good. If the Conservatives lose that part of the appeal, see above. Prosecution. Among those who would face consequences, some very high profile Conservatives, Bernier, Verner, Cannon, Paradis. Something to remember as we hear all about the goodness of the Federal Court ruling. This is an aspect of this judgment that needs much more attention.

What else have they been spinning the past few days?

1. That this is a "long running accounting dispute," that's a good one. When you have disputes with your accountant, do they make it beyond the accountant's office? Not likely. Do you have to traipse off to the Ontario Court Provincial Division for a date with a judge to answer to charges carrying penalty of fines and jail time? Not likely. Do you claim solicitor/client privilege over 5 million documents? Maybe if you are a behemoth operation, well-financed and litigation friendly, like the Conservative Party of Canada. And you would like to contribute to the "long running" nature of the dispute so that you can keep it tied up in court for years and obfuscate to the general public. The time tested strategy of corporate giants. Interesting look on a supposedly little-guy friendly political party.

2. That the civil suit and the Elections Act charges can and should be intermingled. No. There is the Elections Canada investigation conducted by the Commissioner of Elections which has now produced these charges against Conservative party officials. Then there is the separate in-and-out civil lawsuit over candidate expenses, initiated by the Conservatives themselves, that has been going on for years as well. While both proceedings arise from the same broad set of facts, they're separate. The early Conservative spin suggested that these charges shouldn't have been laid by the director of public prosecutions while the appeal is pending in the separate civil matter. No. That undercuts the separate nature of the proceedings. One doesn't depend on the other. Indeed, see that Canadian Press report from May, 2010 where we were reminded at that time that the Commissioner's investigation was still kicking around and that it could produce charges. It told us that the matter had been referred to the director of public prosecutions in June 2009, well before the lower court ruling in the in-and-out civil lawsuit in January 2010. Again, separate and apart. These charges shouldn't be minimized by Conservative spin efforts to intermingle them with the civil suit.

A question that some of us would like to know is why exactly it took a year and a half for the Director of Public Prosecutions to make the decision to prosecute? Is that normal? Doesn't seem like it. "It's a complex matter" doesn't really cut it. In the U.S. they have no such problems dealing with complex matters. This aspect also seems to deserve some attention.

Oda, Elections Act charges...no wonder the Prime Minister doesn't want to speak about these things, skipped Question Period, and is kicking the can down the hill to his underling. Very courageous, as always. He has television ads to make, don't ya know.