Tory MP James Bezan claims 'vindication' in election expense dispute
Rules about signs would be changed under government's proposed election law reforms
Tory MP James Bezan is claiming victory in a long-running dispute with Elections Canada over his 2011 election expenses.
According to a release issued by Bezan earlier today, the electoral agency has accepted the corrected return that he submitted last spring in response to concerns over the commercial value of a series of highway billboards funded out of his parliamentary budget.
The case hit the headlines last year after the chief electoral officer alerted House Speaker Andrew Scheer to the ongoing issues with returns filed by Bezan and his Manitoba caucus colleague Shelly Glover, who was subsequently appointed Minister of Canadian Heritage.
Under the current election laws, failure to file corrected expense returns could result in an MP being suspended from the Chamber until the matter has been resolved.
The proposed amendments introduced earlier this week would ensure that an MP would would continue to sit until the courts have rendered a final verdict.
Last fall, Glover entered into a compliance agreement with Elections Canada that will see her spend less during her next campaign to make up for exceeding the limit in 2011.
Bezan's full statement, as posted to his website this afternoon:
BEZAN VINDICATED IN ELECTIONS CANADA DISPUTE
"I am glad that Elections Canada and my campaign have been able to resolve our dispute out of court regarding my 2011 campaign return. As I said from the very beginning, this dispute was a difference of opinion over the accounting for my MP highway signs. The legitimacy of my re-election in 2011 was never in question.
"I am pleased to say that Elections Canada has agreed with the commercial value of my MP signs I submitted in my corrected campaign return on May 5, 2013 at $518 per sign. My final campaign return for the 2011 election is below the allowable election expense limit, and my personal contributions are also below the allowable limit. As a matter of fact, the total difference between my corrected return filed on May 5, 2013 and my final return is only $458.
"The highway signs in question are my Member of Parliament billboards which were originally paid as advertising out of my Member's Operating Budget. The riding for Selkirk-Interlake is geographically larger than Nova Scotia. The first group of these signs were in place prior to the 2006 election, and the remainder were erected over the next few years. Since then some have been recovered and some had to be replaced. These signs were manufactured at different times using different companies and different materials.
"The elapsed time, the numerous invoices and the question of sign ownership was confusing for everyone involved. Regrettably, at no time, did a single Elections Canada official contact me, or my parliamentary offices, to work through the logistics and value of the signs. Instead, they erroneously jumped to conclusions. I am glad that they now understand and agree with my campaign on the issue.
"The approach used by Elections Canada in my case was unfortunate and unnecessary. They suspended discussions with my campaign team and took the unprecedented step of invoking section 463(2) of the Canada Elections Act. The Chief Electoral Officer wrote to Speaker Scheer suggesting that I be banned from sitting in the House of Commons and representing my constituents. I was left with no option but to seek relief through the courts.
"The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is currently studying the question of privilege made by the Member for Avalon and the Member for Toronto-Danforth regarding my ability to sit in the House and represent my constituents. In light of this favourable settlement, perhaps the committee should instead be studying whether my privileges were actually violated. At a minimum, the Member for Avalon, the Member for Toronto-Danforth, and others who suggested I be forbidden to sit in the House of Commons should apologize for raising this cynical question of privilege.
"All decisions made by my official agent were done in good faith and he cooperated fully at all times with Elections Canada officials. I want to thank John Pellick for his dedication during this difficult process. He volunteered thinking that his work as my official agent would have been done within a few months of the election, yet he was still filing papers with Elections Canada only a couple of weeks ago. We must keep in mind that the people who work on campaigns in the riding are volunteers.
"I also want to thank the Conservative Party of Canada and our legal team for their good work in resolving this issue, which should never have been an issue. Their knowledge and professionalism were paramount in patiently explaining the facts and the good faith actions of my campaign to Elections Canada.
"It is unfortunate that so much time and effort had to be wasted on this frivolous and baseless action."