This new line from Harper, peddled again today as damage control over his party's loss at the Federal Court of Appeal and the pending Elections Act charges, that "he fully respects Elections Canada's interpretation of the rules, and that his party changed its practices when the elections watchdog clarified those rules before the 2008 election," deserves a little bit more scrutiny.
Harper is muddying the waters, trying to suggest that there was no clarity on the campaign spending rules in 2006 and that the onus was on Elections Canada to clear things up before the 2008 campaign. Then his party got the message, he says. But it was only his party that hasn't been clear on the rules. And Elections Canada did not change the rules in 2008 or clean up anything that was unclear. They merely reiterated the rules before the 2008 election by issuing a letter. The way I read this letter at the time was that Elections Canada merely felt the need to spell it out so that the creative brain trust at the helm of the Conservative Party operation wouldn't get any bright ideas again:
Elections Canada has laid down the law on campaign expenses for the looming federal election as controversy still rages over Conservative advertising spending in the last campaign.Exactly what Elections Canada should have done when they were faced with a party who had breached the rules in 2006 and might very well do it again in 2008. So they issued a letter before the 2008 election. A reminder that spoke to the difference between expenses at the local level versus the national level, differences the Conservatives tried to blur in 2006. Now if there is some other act by Elections Canada that the Conservatives are relying upon in this latest spin, perhaps they could clarify. (See Delorey, CPC party official, here yesterday as well.)
The electoral agency issued a letter this week stating that allowable candidate expenses can only be costs for campaign goods or services that "directly promote or oppose a candidate."
The reminder appears to be aimed at the kind of large-scale radio and television advertising the Conservative party arranged for the 2006 election that led to a Federal Court battle with Elections Canada and an investigation into the expenses.
The letter – to members of an all-party advisory panel that consults with Elections Canada – defines campaign expenses allowed under the Canada Elections Act, the role of candidate agents, and how expenses must be reported.
The letter says expenses and non-monetary contributions must be incurred or received by the candidates.
And it adds: "The property or service for which the expense is incurred, or the non-monetary contribution is received, is used to directly promote or oppose a candidate."
Otherwise, it doesn't appear that there were any rule changes as Mr. Harper would like us all to believe.
Update (7:15 p.m.): From the updated Canadian Press report, here is what Harper said:
But with government also positioning itself for a possible spring election, the prime minister also maintained that the Conservative party "always respects" Elections Canada's interpretations of the law.That report is worth a read as well for some perspective on the Conservatives' attack on Elections Canada's integrity throughout this dispute.
"In this particular instance, we changed our practices to conform with its new interpretations three years ago," said Harper.