Election expenses battle heats up
And so it starts.
Within the next couple of weeks, all the former Liberal leadership candidates have to submit an updated accounting of their campaign debts — most importantly, how they're going to pay off the big loans they received. The Star reported on this over the past week.
The rough tally of that combined debt, as of March (the last time we received publicly available numbers), is about $2.8-million — an estimated $800,000 of that belongs to leader Stéphane Dion.
Any leadership candidate who doesn't have a rigorous plan to pay off those loans will then find that they are deemed as "contributions" and thus in violation of Elections Canada law, limiting each donation to $1,100 per person in a leadership contest. (And by the way, that extends over years; someone who gave $1,100 to Dion in 2006 can't give him $1,100 in 2008 to help pay off his loans.)
The Conservatives, bank on it, will be saying that Elections Canada (or public enemy number one) is showing favouritism to the Liberals if they don't make the loans payable immediately. In fact, however, the law does not just allow the extension — it provides for it.
Today in the House of Commons, the Conservatives used the 15 minutes before Question Period to bash Dion and the Liberals as usual. And they started the drumbeat — Liberals should be paying their loans by June 3, not asking for any extensions.
Here's Conservative MP Joe Preston:
Mr. Joe Preston (Elgin—Middlesex—London, CPC): Mr. Speaker, when financing their leadership campaigns the Liberal leader and his opponents received millions of dollars from wealthy and powerful individuals.
The Canada Elections Act clearly stated that loans taken out during the leadership race must be paid back within 18 months or they become legal donations over the donation limit.
The June 3 deadline is fast approaching. Some have speculated Elections Canada may extend the period to repay the loans.
According to Duff Conacher, “Elections Canada will be acting unethically and undemocratically if it lets any of the Liberal leadership candidates extend their loans past the 18 month deadline”.
Will the Liberal leadership contestants skirt contribution limits, thus breaking the law, through massive personal loans from wealthy, powerful individuals by not repaying their loans on time?
Will Elections Canada give special treatment to the Liberal Party by extending the deadline?