Inside Politics

The NDP can live with new leadership funding rules

Wednesday the government introduced new and fairly predictable rules for leadership candidates seeking loans, changes that that Marc Mayrand of Elections Canada had recommended.

Individual loans will be capped at $1,100, only financial institutions can make larger loans and unions and corporations will be banned from making loans at all.

If anyone thinks the government introduced the new restrictions to mess up the NDP right in the middle of their leadership campaign, as some say the government "stuck it to the Liberals" during their 2006 leadership campaign, they can calm down. The new rules won't come into effect until six months after royal assent, well after the NDP leadership race is over.

It was a different story for the Liberals in 2006.

The unfortunate Liberals went into their campaign under rules that said each donor could give a maximum of $5,400 annually.

Before the campaign was over, the Conservative government changed the rules so that the maximum was $1,100 and could only be given once. It meant that paying off the inevitable post-leadership debt has been "absolutely brutal," in the words of one former candidate. A whole new pool of donors had to be found.

Five years after that leadership contest, several of the candidates are still in debt.

Gerard Kennedy, who unsuccessfully ran for the Liberal leadership in 2006, knows about the burden of paying off leadership debts long after the campaign. He speaks of candidates who re-mortgaged their homes to raise money. He says he held "door-opening" events about how to run, and raised money that way. He did a sketch of Lester Pearson and auctioned off prints for $150 each.

Kennedy is confident he can get rid of his debt by December, the latest deadline set by Elections Canada, but others might have to seek another extension.

Martha Hall Findlay is another Liberal leadership candidate who has outstanding loans. "We are not irresponsible people," she says, and adds that she ran a frugal campaign. But now, she and other candidates face fines if they can't repay their debts in time.

And, Gerard Kennedy says, the sanction from Elections Canada can be "pretty heavy. You can be banned from running for office, fined, there can even be a jail penalty."

The NDP says it's supportive of today's changes. Other than the fact that a few candidates have borrowed money from their own bank accounts -- verboten in the future but grandfathered now -- they can live with the new rules. In fact, candidates will be better off now, because the new rules say that the $1,100 maximum contribution can be donated to a leadership campaign every year as long as it takes to erase the debt (within the Elections Canada deadline, of course).

Lorne Nystrom, who ran twice for the NDP leadership and who is now supporting Thomas Mulcair's bid, says, "We've come a long way. I remember there were conventions when people who weren't even party members who were voting. It was all about the connections and the money. The NDP was equally as bad."

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