Tories overspent on election by $1M: warrant
Van Loan defends party in 'dispute' over 2006 campaign ads
The federal Conservatives are accused of exceeding their campaign spending limit by more than $1 million, and making "false and misleading" statements in their financial returns in the last election, Elections Canada says in the warrant for last week's raid on party headquarters in Ottawa.
According to the documents, Elections Canada alleges the Conservatives overspent on election ads by disguising national ads as local expenses in an elaborate plan that involved the participation of 67 candidates — including four cabinet ministers.
The documents, some 700 pages that include search warrants and a sworn affidavit supporting the raid, allege the Conservatives engaged in a so-called "in-and-out" scheme — directing money to local candidates, who then transferred the funds back to the party to spend on more advertising for the national campaign.
The affidavit, signed by Elections Canada investigator Robert Lamothe, said this scheme allowed the party "to spend more than $1 million over and above" the legal campaign limit of $18.3 million set out under the Canada Elections Act.
This funnelling was "entirely under the control of and at the direction of officials of the Conservative Fund Canada and/or the Conservative Party of Canada," the 68-page supporting affidavit for the warrant said. "The Conservative Party of Canada exceeded its election expense spending limit for the 39th federal general election."
The documents also allege the party's financial arm, the Conservative Fund of Canada, filed returns "that it knew or ought reasonably to have known contained a materially false or misleading statement."
The candidates were chosen because they had not reached the riding spending cap, according to the documents. In turn, they were encouraged to apply for rebates for expenses totalling $777,000 that were later rejected by Elections Canada, the CBC's Susan Bonner reported.
According to the documents, a legal representative for one of the Tories' candidates in Toronto expressed reservations about the accounting plan, saying he "found this move was being a little too creative."
The documents include an alleged e-mail to Conservatives from Retail Media, the company the Tories used to buy advertising time, in which the company writes: "While our thinking is that this option would be legal, we are not certain beyond all reasonable doubt."
Party bars some reporters
CBC News and the Canadian Press obtained a copy of the documents before they were released Monday by an Ontario court.
Other media, including the Toronto Star and CTVglobemedia, received the documents in a private briefing from the Conservatives on Sunday in Ottawa, the CBC's Keith Boag reported.
When other media organizations, including the CBC, learned of the meeting, party officials scrambled to avoid them, switching hotels, slamming doors and scampering down fire exits to escape pointed questions from journalists who weren't invited.
Boag said CBC News asked to attend the briefings, but was rejected and told by party spokesman Ryan Sparrow that it was a "private meeting."
Reporters from the Canadian Press, Maclean's magazine and Canwest Global Communications Corp., along with others, were also excluded.
Giving some reporters a briefing before Monday's court release of the warrant gives the party a chance to shape the story, but it also creates the impression that the Conservatives need to spin it, Boag said.
Allegations suggest Tories 'cheated': Dion
None of the allegations in the documents have been proven in court.
The Conservatives maintain they did nothing wrong and have said last week's raid is linked to a civil lawsuit the party has launched against Elections Canada.
But opposition parties said the matter is more than a debate over election spending rules. Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said the documents suggest the Tories "cheated" in the last federal election campaign.
"The allegation is that the Conservative Party cheated at the last election, the Conservative headquarters of the campaign cheated at the last election, tried to cover it up after and [were] caught," he told reporters in Montreal on Monday.
Dion said the alleged scheme "may have had an effect" on the 2006 election results, which saw the Liberals ousted from power.
"We'll never know for sure, but you don't cheat for nothing," he said. "You cheat because you want to have an effect. You want to have more voters for you in an illegal way."
Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale also criticized Sunday's private media briefings, calling them part of the Conservatives' "control-freak mentality."
"They're scrambling desperately to control the spin," he said.
NDP Leader Jack Layton echoed Dion's concerns about the 2006 election outcome, saying $1 million could have made a difference in a tight race.
"We all know the Conservatives have a lot of money in their political war chest, but it is very important that everybody follows the rules," Layton said Monday. "Otherwise, you haven't got a level playing field for democracy."
He also accused the Tories of abandoning their 2006 campaign pledge to improve transparency in the federal government in the wake of the sponsorship scandal.
"Canadians are wondering, 'Where is this ethical government we were promised? Where is this change from all these years of scandals?'"