Elections Canada vs. two Tory MPs - Macleans.ca

Elections Canada vs. two Tory MPs

John Geddes on questions raised by an unusual clash


The legal battle that has erupted this week between Elections Canada and two Conservative MPs from Manitoba over their campaign spending puts some awfully strange scenarios into play.

The oddest, it seems to me, is that those MPs might ultimately be found to have violated the law requiring proper disclosure of election expenses, and yet still be allowed to continue to hold office, even if they were no longer permitted to actually vote in the House.

To see how that improbably weird possibility emerges, we have to recap what’s happened so far.  After each federal election, the campaign expense return of every candidate is audited by Elections Canada. In the cases of the two Manitoba Tories, MP Shelly Glover and MP James Bezan, the auditors found gaps after the 2011 election in the way they accounted for spending on things like roadside signs and websites.

After many letters back and forth between the elections watchdog and the Conservatives’ lawyers, Elections Canada finally concluded last month that the MPs were not going to bring their returns into compliance with the rules. The reason is likely that they realized how making the changes Elections Canada was ordering would mean they had overshot the allowed spending limits, which would open up a whole new set of legal problems for them.

Having reached an impasse, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand did what the Canada Elections Act says he must. Mayrand wrote to Andrew Scheer, the Speaker of the House, and told him where things stand, pointing out that the act states clearly that Glover and Bezan “may not continue to sit or vote as a member” until they fix their campaign returns.

But Scheer chose not to immediately suspend the two. Instead, taking into account the fact that Glover and Bezan are both challenging Elections Canada’s interpretation of the rules in court, Scheer decided to wait and see what decisions the judges hand down. The Liberals have formally contested Scheer’s right to allow the MPs to keep sitting in the House while the matter is before the courts. Scheer will have to rule on that sometime soon.

It’s possible Scheer will change his mind and suspend Glover and Bezan while their cases are being heard. Even if he decides to let them keep serving in the House for the time being, he would still have to suspend them if, in the end, the judges find Elections Canada knows its stuff. Either way, we face the unusual prospect of MPs remaining MPs, but not being allowed to do their jobs in the Commons.

So I asked Elections Canada at what point, should Glover and Bezan finally fail to persuade a judge to overrule Mayrand, would they either have to correct their campaign returns or be ousted as MPs, forcing by-elections in their ridings. The unexpected answer: never.

“The reality is that this breach does not cause somebody to be removed from office,” Elections Canada spokesman John Enright told me this afternoon. “Nor does to it prevent them from seeking reelection. That’s what it is.”

For clarity’s sake, I asked him if there is anything in the Canada Elections Act that might lead to an MP losing his or her seat for refusing to fix an election spending return deemed incomplete. Even if the courts side with Elections Canada, he repeated, “There’s no offence here that would entail removal from office.”

The penalty, Enright explained, might be a fine or perhaps even a jail sentence imposed upon, not the MP, but the MP’s official agent from the last election campaign. As for being suspended from the House, that could go on indefinitely, at least in theory, without the MP ever ceasing to be the MP.

It sounds crazy, of course. You’d think we could look to past cases of this sort for a sense of what would really happen. So far, however, nobody at Elections Canada—including veterans like Enright, who’s been there a quarter century—can recall any dispute remotely like this.

While there have been many, many cases of Elections Canada auditors challenging all sorts of aspects of campaign spending returns, those clashes have always been settled without the Chief Electoral Officer having to resort to informing the Speaker that an MP has refused to sort out a problem.

It seems the stormy relationship between the Conservative party and Elections Canada is leading us down strange new paths.


Elections Canada vs. two Tory MPs

  1. I suspect that penalties were not more specific because there was always an expectation that honourable members would, by definition, behave honourably. No respectable person would refuse to comply with the law out of pure pigheadedness.

    The drafter’s of these rules apparently never contemplated the circumstance wherein a ruling party would take on the personality of a belligerent teenager: greedy, obnoxious, irrational and defiant. This government is convinced that it is in an existential struggle against “The Man” and can not change its attitude or it’s behaviour even though it’s become the Man.

    (4th Paragraph – speaker is Andrew, not Albert).

    • So much of our govt is based on tradition, precedent, honour….and isn’t written down. So when….as you say….they have bumped into a govt of belligerent teenagers…….

    • Thanks for the catch on that Speaker’s given name. I’ll fix that.

    • Only a belligerent teenager would demand the ouster of a democratically elected MP because of the accounting of some street signs. Talk about irrational. Also partisan. Democracy is better than that.

      Nobody has refused to comply with the law. The courts are there for a reason. But you’d prefer to ignore that so that you can rant with your foolish diatribe.

      • In fact, the two MPs in question have refused to comply with the law. That’s the entire issue. The language of the the thing is quite clear, until they comply with the Elections Canada regulations, they are ineligible to serve as MPs. They have been given every opportunity to bring themselves into compliance with the regulations but they have chosen, quite deliberately, to defy Elections Canada.

        Every day that they remain in the House is further proof that the Law and Order party has no respect for either.

        • That’s incorrect. The courts exist to adjucate disputes and judgements in the application of law. By taking the issue to court, they are disputing the law with elections Canada. They are not refusing to comply, they are using their right to defend themselves in court.
          No, Canada is a land of due process in which all people are entitled to the courts and in which people are innocent until proven guilty. So no, they are not in any way, shape or form ineligible as MPs until the matter is adjucated before a court.
          This is Canada, not Zimbabwe, not Latin America. Canada is not a dicatorship in which Elections Canada is the dictator. They do not have the power to remove elected officials, and neither do you. You are not the arbiter of the law and neither is Elections Canada, as much as you’d like to be, it seems. Every time you repeat comments like that you prove that you have no respect for law and order.

  2. “While there have been many, many cases of Elections Canada auditors challenging all sorts of aspects of campaign spending returns, those clashes have always been settled without the Chief Electoral Officer having to resort to informing the Speaker that an MP has refused to sort out a problem”

    When these clowns are finally turfed, the whole rule book, conventions the lot, will have to be rewritten and penalties for none compliance spelled out. It’s like we elected a frat house to run the country into the ground.

  3. Harper’s CPC cannot be shamed.

  4. Speaker Andrew Scheer has fallen perfectly in line with the PMO standard operating procedures which is to first pretend nothing has happened, keep any documents private, not speak about an issue in public and refuse any advice, and leave it to the courts to decide.

    He should have informed the House and tabled the letter from Mayrand when he received it, and he should have sought advice from the House Leaders before deciding to let the two MP’s continue to sit.

    He’s just another Conservative puppet who does whatever the PMO wants.