(This post last updated at 8:24pm.)
Both the Ottawa Citizen and CTV are reporting word of a settlement in the in-and-out case, possibly in relation to the charges against four Conservative party officials. Full history of the in-and-out controversy here.
Update 1:18pm. Canadian Press has details.
The party is set to agree to what a caucus source called “administrative imperfection” for the way it handled advertising spending during the 2006 federal election. As a result, sources say charges against four senior Conservative officials – including two senators – for breaking the Elections Act are being dropped.
Update 1:24pm. Glen McGregor’s FAQ is probably the easiest way to get up to speed. Last March, the House passed a motion deeming the financing scheme to be “an act of electoral fraud.” Three years ago, chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand explained his view in detail before a parliamentary committee.
Update 2:46pm. The Globe confirms.
In return, the Conservative Party of Canada and its fundraising arm are pleading guilty to lesser charges that characterize what took place as a mere error instead of intentional misconduct. At the same time, the charges against four Conservative officials – two sitting senators – are being dropped.
CTV reports the party has been fined $50,000. The Supreme Court will still apparently hear the separate dispute between the Conservative party and Elections Canada.
Update 3:24pm. A statement from Elections Canada.
Elections Canada notes that the prosecution reinforces the importance of the spending limits for ensuring the fairness of our electoral system, including the distinct election spending limits for candidates and political parties. It also confirms that there can be no transfer of expenses.
The Party and the Fund’s position is that the regional media buy program was intended to be, and was in principle, in compliance with the Act but that the flaws in its implementation mean that a number of expenses assumed by some candidates, (such as those attributed to candidates before those candidates or their official agents were formally in place), were properly attributable to the Party as its incurred expenses. By adding those incurred expenses to those of the Party, the Party exceeded its cap. In particular, the Party and the Fund admit that all of the office expenses referred to in this agreed statement of facts totalling $116,250, and, in 29 instances, the media expenses attributed to candidates totalling $563,329.51 were, instead, appropriately attributable to the Party.
Update 4:20pm. A statement from the Conservative party.
This is a big victory for the Conservative Party of Canada. Every single Conservative accused of wrongdoing has been cleared today. The Regional Media Buy was always intended to comply with the Elections Act. After five years the other side has finally determined that they could not or should not prove otherwise. This has been a long-standing administrative dispute with Elections Canada over whether certain campaign expenses should be counted as local or national.
The Conservative Party of Canada plays by the same rules as everyone else; we acted under the law as it was understood by Elections Canada at that time. When it was clear that Elections Canada had changed its interpretation of the law, the Conservative Party adjusted its practices for the 2008 and 2011 election campaigns. Ultimately, Conservative candidates spent Conservative dollars on Conservative ads.
Update 4:54pm. A note from the NDP.
After five years, the Harper Conservatives today pleaded guilty to breaking Canada’s election laws. While four Conservative insiders escaped accountability, NDP leader Nycole Turmel says that Stephen Harper cannot. She called on him to explain his party’s illegal actions.
“After five years putting Canadians through the ringer, the Conservatives misled Canadians, claiming there was no wrongdoing on their part. Today, forced to face the music, they finally admitted that they broke the law. Now it’s time for Stephen Harper to apologize to Canadians for Conservative actions during the 2006 election campaign and take responsibility for breaking election laws.”
Update 5:23pm. Glen McGregor summarizes the day’s developments.
The party and the Conservative Fund of Canada each entered guilty pleas in an Ottawa courtroom Thursday to two Elections Act offences as part of an agreement with Crown prosecutors. The Tories admitted to exceeding the $18.3-million spending limit imposed by law during the 2006 campaign and filing an election return that did not report all the expenses incurred…
In court, lawyer Mark Sandler, who represented the party and the fund, claimed this reflects that the party’s “non-compliance” was inadvertent. He said no one had intended to break the law. The party, he said, “inadvertently fell short of compliance” in cases where money was transferred to local campaign before the candidate had been selected. But the party and the officials believed the “regional media buy” or RMB program, was entirely legal.
Update 8:24pm. CP wraps the day, including comment from Bob Rae.
Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said the extra money the Tories spent on advertising in the close-fought campaign “may have helped them to buy the election.”
“They still broke the rules and paid a fine but, listening to their crowing (about the plea bargain being a big victory), it doesn’t sound as if they’ve learned anything,” he said, adding that Conservatives “should accept responsibility and say they’re sorry. Period.”