Wednesday, September 5, 2007

This don't look so hot for Harper and co.

So the Naumetz and Mcgregor hit parade continues....

Fine print made ads legitimate, Tories say
National party commercials tagged as candidate messages

Tim Naumetz and Glen Mcgregor
The Ottawa Citizen

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The federal Conservative party
presented television commercials produced for its national campaign in the 2006 election as advertising for local candidates by tacking fine-print lists of candidates and ridings to the end of the ads.

The costs of the ads, broadcast in Quebec and Ontario, are part of the $1.2 million worth of advertising that has sparked a court battle between Elections Canada and the Conservative party and led to a brewing political storm over allegations the party exceeded its total campaign spending limit.

The ads, some of which invoked the Liberal sponsorship scandal by stating they were paid for with "clean money," are also the subject of an examination by federal Elections Commissioner William Corbett. His investigators began looking into the spending after Conservative candidates attempted to claim reimbursements for the costs as part of their local campaigns.

One commercial, among eight TV ads and two radio spots obtained by the Citizen from Elections Canada, features a group of Canadians in a diner watching a TV with images of Paul Martin, Justice John Gomery and former public works minister David Dingwall. The ad became familiar to voters across the country and featured Judge Gomery's quote about a "culture of entitlement" in the sponsorship scandal.

The ad also features Mr. Dingwall's equally-infamous quote, "I'm entitled to my entitlements," made during a Commons inquiry into his expense account as president of the Royal Canadian Mint.

The only reference to local Conservative candidates comes at the end of the ad, which says, in small lettering, that it was authorized and paid for by the official agents in seven electoral districts in the Greater Toronto Area. The candidates are not named. The name of one of the ridings, Vaughan, is misspelled as "Vaughn."

The dispute between Elections Canada and the party hinges on whether the ads were intended to promote local candidates, or whether they were part of the national campaign.

A Citizen review of campaign spending for all parties in the election found that the Conservative party transferred large sums of money, up to $50,000, to more than 50 candidate campaigns, primarily in Quebec and Ontario.

The Tories set up an intricate system for the candidates to use the money to pay the party for radio, TV and other advertising. Under orders from party headquarters, official agents for the candidates involved were required to fax signed copies of bank transfer instructions to the party, which a party financial officer later used to instruct the candidates' banks to forward payments for the ads.

Several candidates told the Citizen the process was intended to allow them to claim 60 per cent of the advertising expenses in rebates from Elections Canada.

The scheme also might have allowed the party to spend money on advertising outside its $18.3-million overall campaign limit by channelling the costs through the ridings. The party ended the campaign $270,000 under its legal limit.

Elections Canada has rejected the rebate claims from candidates, saying they have produced no evidence they actually contracted the advertising themselves and that local ads are intended to benefit individual candidates.

The party says the ads are legitimate expenses incurred by their candidates because they carry the fine print identifying the official agents of the campaigns that the party says funded them.

"Our tag lines are clearly identified," said Conservative party spokesman Ryan Sparrow. "These ads were paid for by local campaigns, and that's our party's position."

But Elections Canada says the tag lines listing the official agents are "not relevant" in determining whether the ads are legitimate expenses for the candidates.

"Under the Canada Elections Act, for costs to be claimed as an election expense by a candidate, the property or service for which the cost was incurred must be used to directly promote or oppose a candidate during an election period," said Elections Canada spokesman Serge Fleylel.

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