Taxpayer-funded pre-election pamphlets defended by NDP
Pamphlets cleared and sent out before election was called Saturday, say NDP
New Democrat pamphlets funded by the Nova Scotian government are raising the ire of the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives who say taxpayers shouldn't pay for partisan ads on the eve of an election, but Darrell Dexter said Tuesday his party has done nothing wrong.
The brochures are emblazoned with the NDP caucus logo and photos of Dexter and Maureen MacDonald, who was the Finance Minister when the legislature was dissolved. The brochures also tout government accomplishments over the past four years and promises for the future.
Dexter said the pamphlets were cleared and sent out before the election was called Saturday.
"We worked with the Speaker's Office to make sure it was within all the rules and it complies as it should," he told reporters at a campaign event.
When asked if he had abused his power, Dexter replied: "Absolutely not."
A spokeswoman for Dexter said it cost $40,000 to print and deliver the pamphlets to 220,000 households across the province. The first batch was mailed on Aug. 20, while a second set was sent on Sept. 3, said Jennifer Stewart.
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said the New Democrats were clearly planning for an election campaign before the flyers were distributed.
"They used taxpayers money through their caucus office to send out a pretty political mailout on the eve of that election," he said. "That is wrong."
Elections Nova Scotia said it won't investigate the matter as the brochures were sent out before the election was called Saturday.
No one from the Speaker's Office was available for an interview. However, Neil Ferguson, chief clerk of the Speaker's Office, said in an emailed statement that no issues were found with the pamphlets.
No issues with pamphlets, say Speaker's Office
"The Speaker's Office reviewed a draft of the caucus brochure and advised the caucus office that it qualified for reimbursement under the caucus funding guidelines," he said.
Under provincial guidelines, the three caucuses are entitled to annual funding, but the Speaker has the final say on what is appropriate. Before the legislature was dissolved, New Democrat Gordie Gosse was the Speaker.
As well, no caucus office funds are to be used for election campaign materials.
Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil accused the NDP of trying to skirt the rules. He said he was reminded of the last election campaign when the NDP accepted $45,000 in illegal donations from a trade union group and was later fined $10,000 by Elections Nova Scotia.
"This is just another way for the NDP to find a way around the financial contribution rules in campaigns," said McNeil, adding that he hasn't ruled out lodging a complaint.
The donations during the previous campaign came from nine separate unions that each contributed $5,000 and were then reimbursed by the Nova Scotia Building and Construction Trades Council. At the time, the province's electoral financing laws prohibited registered parties from accepting donations in excess of $5,000 from a single contributor.
Dexter announced the New Democrats would return the money to the council shortly before winning a majority government in June 2009, saying party officials were unaware of how the money was raised. But a subsequent investigation by the province's chief electoral officer determined the NDP failed to return the money until the issue was raised in a letter to the party in January 2010.