Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Elections Canada's Bold Move

It looks to me like Elections Canada is skating on thin ice. The Globe and Mail reported:

RCMP officers raided Conservative Party headquarters in downtown Ottawa yesterday to execute a search warrant requested by Election Commissioner William Corbett.

The police worked behind closed doors of the 12th-floor suite and at a mailroom on another floor. They were searching for information related to Mr. Corbett's investigation into whether dozens of Tory candidates improperly claimed advertising expenses that should have been declared by the national party.

It's obviously a complicated issue. Elections Canada is with holding campaign reimbursement funds from the Conservative Party and investigating whether the party declared expenses properly. The Conservative Party is suing Elections Canada for the funds that are being held.

There is often a blurring of lines between candidate's campaign budgets and the National Campaign. For instance, on an earlier campaign I was involved in the National Party's call centre did local polling to aid the candidate in a key riding. On a separate campaign for the Canadian Alliance, the local campaign was given the opportunity to pay for generic National Party advertisements on local radio and TV stations.

I don't know the particulars of the latest issue, the Conservatives obviously believe they are within the rules, but both arguments clearly rest on technicalities. The scandal today is that Elections Canada, a neutral agency, has made a media splash by engaging the RCMP and leaking the story to the media. Predictably, the news headlines on the radio during my drive home yesterday and into work this morning simply reported that the RCMP was raiding Conservative Party headquarters, suggesting that something criminal had happened. Clearly this is not accurate, the news will pass because there's no real story, but the damage has done and the Conservative Party is going to look a little more murky to the general public.

William Corbett will do well to remember that his position rests on being neutral and foregoing politically motivated attacks. He should apologize immediately.

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