British Columbia

B.C. Liberals deny using taxpayers' money to fund partisan ads

The party was named as a defendant in a civil claim that alleged the government had spent $15 million on advertising that served to enhance the image of the party. It's now filed a response to that lawsuit.

The party filed a defence to a lawsuit that claims it broke the law with ads in the lead-up to the election

B.C.'s auditor general concluded a B.C. Liberal government ad — promoting cuts to MSP which will not be made until next year — was too political and does not serve the public. (ProvinceofBC/YouTube)

The B.C. Liberals are denying claims they broke the law with taxpayer-funded advertisements that aired in the lead-up to the recent provincial election.

The party's denial was part of its response to a civil claim launched in March that alleged the government had spent $15 million on advertising that served to enhance the image of the party.

David Trapp, who is listed as the plaintiff in the suit, argued that the government has a legal obligation to collect tax money and spend tax money for the benefit of the citizens, and that the ads were a misuse of taxpayer money.

The lawsuit also claimed the advertisements were designed to improve the party's likelihood of success in the election.

Fiduciary duty

On May 3 — six days before the election — the B.C. Liberals filed a response to the lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court denying the party engaged in partisan advertising.

In its response the party states that as a matter of policy, public money can't be used to buy advertising in support of a political party.

The defence claims that in order for government advertising to be approved, it must be "fact-based" and "point to, or provide information on government priorities, programs services or politicies."

After the lawsuit was filed In March B.C.'s auditor general warned the B.C. Liberals that one of the provincial government's advertising campaigns promoting the province's budget was too political.

David Fai (left) and Paul Doroshenko (centre) in front of B.C. Supreme Court in March 2017 where they filed a lawsuit against the B.C. Liberals Party over government advertisements leading up to the election. (CBC News)

But the crux of the party's defence is that the government doesn't have a fiduciary duty that's enforceable in court, and that this is a novel argument being raised by the plaintiffs.

"The collection of taxes and distribution of public money held by the government is a purely public function," states the party's defence. "It has no private law analogue that could ground the recognition of a fiduciary duty."

All of the claims have yet to be tested in court.

Class-action certification sought

A date for a hearing has not yet been set, but one the lawyers for the plaintiffs, Paul Doroshenko, confirmed Wednesday they plan to move ahead with the lawsuit and will seek to have the case certified as a class action.

"Ultimately we're hoping we can get this matter all the way to trial," said Doroshenko.

"Our hope is that we end this practice with this lawsuit. We're going to press ahead. Win or lose we're going to press ahead."