A Rothesay businessman whose private campaign to draw attention to the government's debt during the last provincial election has been found guilty of violating the Political Process Financing Act — the first prosecution and conviction of its kind in New Brunswick.

David Bishop failed to follow election rules put in place before the 2010 provincial election, provincial court Judge Andrew LeMesurier told a Saint John courtroom Tuesday afternoon.

Specifically, Bishop failed to identify himself as the author or instigator of bumper stickers and a huge banner that appeared on the side of a tractor-trailer in Quispamsis after the election was called in late August and before New Brunswickers went to the polls on Sept. 27.

The materials contained a message for the then-premier: "We live within our means: Please tell Shawn Graham!"

Senior Crown prosecutor Craig Botterill said Bishop went against important rules that were implemented to make elections fair.

Botterill's basic premise was that rich, powerful parties, candidates and interest groups should not be able to bury less-affluent groups by overwhelming them with election advertising spending.

Therefore, Bishop should have obeyed the rules and clearly identified himself or his financial officer on the signage.

Challenging legislation

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Senior Crown attorney Craig Botterill said David Bishop contravened rules that were implemented to make elections fair. (CBC)

"It's about enforcing provincial legislation in New Brunswick that is attempting to create an level playing field during elections to make sure that people who spend money to support one candidate or another, or one issue or another, do so, within the limits prescribed by the law … Not one party outspending the other, just because they have more money," said Botterill.

Bishop and his lawyer Rod Gillis said that Bishop had a right to start a dialogue about an issue as important at government debt, that was then pegged at about $8 billion.

They said Bishop's private campaign started well before the election and wasn't about promoting one party over the other.

But LeMesurier disagreed, saying the campaign was clearly targeted at Graham.

Gillis wants to challenge the legislation itself. He said it violates his client's right to free speech.

Now the matter becomes a constitutional challenge.

If the provincial law is found to be invalid, Bishop's conviction essentially disappears.

The matter may not be heard until late summer.