Newfoundland and Labrador's Tories have not followed through on an array of promises made more than a decade ago to provide legislative oversight of party leadership contests, opting to leave the “loopholes” they once criticized wide open.

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Instead, the Progressive Conservatives will enforce their own rules for the race that will choose the next party leader and premier.

"We placed our focus and priority on electoral reform most affecting the people of the province," Premier Tom Marshall said in an emailed statement.

"Leadership campaign regulations have been left to the individual parties." 

Marshall stressed that other reforms, such as fixed-date elections and swifter byelections, have been enacted.

"Leadership campaign rules, including spending caps and expense disclosure, remain within the responsibility of each party. For example, the Progressive Conservative Party of Newfoundland and Labrador has set spending caps for leadership campaigns, as well as guidelines on reporting and disclosing campaign expenses.” 

1st contested leadership in nearly 20 years

This is the party’s first contested leadership race in nearly two decades, and the first chance for the Tories to play by the rules they promised to implement while in opposition.

But the package of legislated reforms for leadership races never materialized.

Then-PC Opposition leader Danny Williams held a press conference in early 2003 to roll out that ambitious suite of policies regarding ethics and government reform.

“We’ve seen blatant abuse of office and taxpayers’ money, allegations concerning conflict of interest, questions of fundraising contributions, and suggestions of impropriety during leadership conventions,” Williams said at a news conference on Feb. 5, 2003.

'These are very serious issues that are eroding the people's confidence in government.' - then-PC Opposition Leader Danny Williams in February 2003

“These are very serious issues that are eroding the people's confidence in government. Now, we can either choose to ignore these issues and continue with the status quo, or we can attempt to deal with it and restore the public's confidence. I'm saying, and we’re saying, that it's time to deal with it and begin to restore the public's confidence.”

The Tory tonic for those perceived ills? Changes to the Elections Act — a law Williams said was “undermined by loopholes” related to leadership financing.

The then-Opposition Tories pledged in 2003 to:

  • legislate maximum donations to candidates in party leadership contests, nominees in party candidacy races, and candidates in general elections and by-elections;
  • set out in legislation that the cash contribution to the party from an individual or corporation shall not exceed $10,000;
  • legislate maximum expenditures by candidates in party leadership contests;
  • require the full public disclosure of all donations to, and expenditures by, candidates in party leadership contests;
  • require that donations in party leadership races be disclosed when they occur, with all expenditures independently audited and fully disclosed within three months after the election of a new leader;
  • enact provisions governing the ownership of unused contributions donated to candidates in leadership races, to ensure that all unused donations are returned to the donors.

“The public is demanding transparency in the raising and spending of all funds related to the election of party leaders, party candidates, and members of the House of Assembly,” Williams said at the time.

“It is our obligation and our commitment to deliver the transparency and accountability that the public is demanding.”

Changes never implemented 

The Tories took office in the fall of 2003, sweeping the Liberals out of power.

Soon after, the new PC government implemented some promised changes, including fixed-date general elections and quicker byelections.

But the proposed election finance rule changes never happened.

Newfoundland house of assembly speaker CBC

A promised package of reforms for party leadership races was never introduced in Newfoundland and Labrador's house of assembly. (Rob Antle/CBC)

Today, there remains no independent oversight of party leadership campaigns by Elections Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Progressive Conservatives do have leadership race rules enshrined in the party’s own constitution.

But those internal regulations don’t reach the standard the party promised a decade ago.

While there are public disclosure provisions, they only apply to expenditures — not donations.

So the public won’t be permitted to know who gave what to which candidate.

Spending is capped at $200,000 per candidate, according to the party’s constitution, but that amount can be revised by the convention committee.

And any unspent candidate cash will be donated to the party.

Oversight in other provinces 

At least five other provinces — Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec — have some form of independent oversight and disclosure requirements for party leadership campaigns. And Elections Canada plays that role federally.

But there remains a legislative void in Newfoundland and Labrador — a void that applies to all parties.

Elections Newfoundland Labrador sign CBC

Elections Newfoundland and Labrador says a total of 551 registered voters cast ballots Tuesday in the advance poll for the Humber East byelection; while 225 people who were registered, voted early in Trinity-Bay de Verde. (CBC)

Last fall, the provincial Liberals came under fire for not disclosing campaign contributions in their leadership race.

The party had no financial disclosure requirements, and no cap in place on fundraising.

Several Liberal leadership candidates — including winner Dwight Ball — later released lists of campaign contributions.

Ball said he believes Elections Newfoundland and Labrador should have an oversight role enshrined in legislation, and it is something he would address if he becomes premier.

“In future leadership campaigns, we need to put, number one, spending caps in place and, number two, full disclosure,” Ball said in a December taping of CBC’s On Point.

“As a government I believe that we could actually play a greater role in doing that, and actually put rules around leadership campaigns. And that is something that we need to do."