MPs step up attacks on Tory campaign spending

Opposition MPs used most of Wednesday's question period to take on the Conservatives over their 2006 election ad spending following a Federal Court of Appeal ruling against the party.

The opposition returned to firing questions over the Conservatives' 2006 election spending Wednesday, seemingly re-energized by a court ruling against the party the day before.

With the Federal Court of Appeal unanimously siding on Tuesday with Elections Canada over the Conservatives' 2006 election ad spending, all three opposition parties led off question period on the so-called "in-and-out" affair.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the court agrees with Elections Canada and the director of public prosecutions, who laid charges against four senior Conservative officials under the Elections Act.

"The federal Conservatives violated the Elections Act and are accused of fraud," Ignatieff said. "The collaborators of the prime minister are facing jail time. To claim this is simply a difference of opinion on an administrative matter is an insult to the intelligence of this house and the citizens of Canada."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper repeated the party's position that Elections Canada changed its interpretation of the rules after the 2006 election. Harper and other Conservative MPs have said they dropped the procedure in the 2008 election.

"There are different rulings from the court on this matter and that is why we will be launching an appeal," Harper said.

"It's not a question of illegal funds. It's a question of the definition of spending as to whether it is local or national."

Tories must seek leave to appeal

Earlier this week, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, the prime minister's parliamentary secretary, defended the Conservatives' transfer of advertising money into 67 local ridings and back to the national party. The transfers allowed the party to exceed its spending limit and the ridings to claim refunds on the money.

Poilievre had said the Federal Court sided with the party. But the Conservative were forced to change their talking points after the Appeal Court's ruling Tuesday unanimously overturned the previous decision.

The Conservatives said they will try to take the case to the Supreme Court. But Liberal MP Dominic Leblanc says it's far from clear the case will make it that far.

"They need permission, leave to appeal," he said. "Most lawyers who argue for a leave application at the Supreme Court begin by highlighting the dissent that one of the appeal judges had written. In the case of a unanimous panel decision, it may be harder than Mr. Harper realizes to have the Supreme Court consider that."

Leblanc also challenged the notion the charges are the result of an administrative dispute with Elections Canada.

"Prisons are full of people who thought they had an administrative dispute, [or] it was an accounting problem," he said.

"A three-judge panel, unanimously, doesn't make it up. Mr. Poilievre makes it up. The prime minister makes it up until he gets caught."

NDP Leader Jack Layton pointed to two senators, Doug Finley and Irving Gerstein, who are charged in the case, and demanded they resign from the Senate.

"According to the ad agency, Retail Media, invoices used for the in-and-out scheme must have been altered by someone," Layton said. "Doctoring documents to evade spending limits is no administrative decision."

Harper said that categorization was "completely inaccurate."