Elections Canada denied new powers by Tories, MPs say

Elections Canada wanted to be able to see election spending receipts from political parties, but opposition MPs say the Conservatives denied that request - and they want to know why.

Chief electoral officer wanted to see parties' receipts

Elections Canada is inviting people to use an online form to lodge complaints about fraudulent election phone calls. (Chris Young/Canadian Press )

The Conservatives last week denied a request by Elections Canada for the power to demand receipts for political parties' election spending, raising questions about why, opposition MPs said Tuesday.

In his report on the 2008 federal election, Canada’s chief electoral officer asked MPs to give him the power to request supporting documents from political parties for their expenses. Individual candidates are already required to provide their receipts, as are leadership contestants, Marc Mayrand told the procedure and House affairs committee.

But opposition MPs say the Conservatives on the committee looking at the report overruled them last week, refusing to support Mayrand’s recommendation.

NDP MP David Christopherson says he wants to know why Conservative MPs wouldn't give the chief electoral officer the ability to demand receipts.

"He's the honest referee that's going to decide the election and whether the rules are complied with," he said.  "Why are they so afraid to give the CEO the power to demand documents, especially in the context of this robo-scandal?

"The first thing that comes to mind to a reasonable person is they’ve got something to hide and if they give this power to the CEO they’re going to get found out. That’s what it looks like to me," Christopherson said.

The committee voted on the report Feb. 9 and tabled it in the House of Commons Feb. 27.

National campaign calls 'available'

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says calls on behalf of the party's national campaign are all recorded and documentation is available to Elections Canada — but he stopped short of saying the party is turning over the records to the agency.

"Those calls are all very well documented. All that documentation is available, has been available since the beginning," he said.

In question period, interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae asked Harper why the Conservatives didn't want to give the chief electoral officer the power he requested. Harper repeated his earlier answer about the party's calls being available if Elections Canada wants them.

"He didn’t answer my question. Nobody answered my question. But that doesn’t make it a different day from any other day," Rae said to reporters outside the House.

"We’ve already said we’re not only going to say our documents are available to Elections Canada, we’re saying we’re going to send the documents to Elections Canada …  They should be doing exactly the same thing."

In a statement released Thursday evening, the parliamentary secretary to the Conservative government house leader said the committee decided between two suggestions from Elections Canada.

"The committee chose the option that put the financial burden on the individual parties rather than the taxpayer," Tom Lukiwski said.

PayPal Canada co-operating with probe

PayPal Canada confirmed Tuesday it had received a court order from Elections Canada relating to some of its records. The company that provides an online payment service and has gotten tangled in the widening probe into alleged dirty tricks used in last year's federal election campaign.

"PayPal is working to support this investigation, but also adheres to a strict privacy policy to protect the confidential information of our users," spokeswoman Martha Cass said in a statement.

However, Elections Canada said it didn't know anything about the court order. Nor could it confirm any connection with the ongoing "robocall" probe.

"At this point, I don't have that — I can't get that information or confirm it for you," said Diane Benson, a spokeswoman for the federal agency.

Elections Canada launches complaint form

Elections Canada is launching a complaint form on its website for electors who believe that fraudulent calls interfered with their right to vote, or who have information about such calls, the agency said Tuesday.  

A spokesman said March 2 that Elections Canada has received 31,000 contacts from Canadians about calls during the last election campaign. That could include calls, emails, letters and form emails from campaigns such as Lead Now, which offers a form on its website to help people log complaints.

A news release from the independent election agency says it's launching the form "to facilitate the complaint process and ensure that information is provided directly to the Commissioner of Canada Elections."

"Elections Canada invites electors who believe that fraudulent calls interfered with their right to vote, or who have information about such calls, to use the complaint form available from its website home page to provide details."

The agency is also asking organizations that have set up their own complaint-gathering sites to instead direct voters to the Elections Canada website.

with files from Canadian Press