Liberals say NDP mailings in Bourassa byelection may have been illegal

The Liberals want Elections Canada to investigate letters sent to voters by the NDP about the Nov. 25, 2013, federal byelection in the Montreal riding of Bourassa.

Elections Canada asked to investigate if MPs' mailings to voters constituted illegal donations

The Liberals want Elections Canada to investigate letters sent to voters by the NDP about the Nov. 25, 2013, federal byelection in the Montreal riding of Bourassa.

Liberal MP Marc Garneau has complained to the Commissioner of Elections about mailings sent by four NDP MPs to people in Bourassa, a Liberal stronghold that became vacant when former Liberal MP Denis Coderre resigned to run in the Montreal mayoralty election.

In his letter of complaint, Garneau said the mailings were delivered to households in the Bourassa riding after the byelection was called, and should be counted as an election expense for the NDP candidate Stéphane Moraille.

The riding was won by the Liberal candidate Emmanuel Dubourg by a 48 per cent margin.

Garneau said the cost of the mailings could constitute donations prohibited by the Canada Elections Act to the NDP candidate

"The benefits accrued from these mailings are not a trivial matter," Garneau said, estimating that sending the letters to 40,000 households could have added up to $20,000 or "over 20 per cent of the allowable spending cap for a candidate in the byelection.

The cap on election spending per candidate in the byelection was $89,000.

4 MPs sent mailings to the riding

Garneau referred to articles in Le Devoir, which reported that NDP MPs Alexandre Boulerice, Guy Caron, Nycole Turmel and Sadia Groguhé all sent mailings into the riding.

According to Le Devoir, the intent of the mailings was clear. One sent by Turmel said that people in Bourassa would soon make a choice between the NDP of Tom Mulcair, a party that works for the public interest, or Liberals and Conservatives, who always favour their friends.

Elections Canada does not comment on letters of complaint.

Garneau, in his missive, said the mailings possibly violate a section of the act that says, "No person who is permitted to accept contributions under this act shall knowingly accept a contribution that exceeds a limit under this act."

The NDP contends that it has done nothing wrong. In an email, spokesman Marc-André Viau said, "These mailings were sent before the writ was issued, in accordance with all the rules and regulations pertaining to this type of communications between members of Parliament and Canadians."

Viau said he didn't have the exact dates the mailings were sent, but added they were mailed over a period of several months, all before the writ was dropped.

Garneau's complaint, however, isn't about when the mailings were sent, but rather when they were received in the mailboxes of Bourassa homes.

Spokesman Jean Proulx said in an email that Garneau's office had "heard reports" from the local Liberal campaign that the mailings arrived during the writ period.

Proulx said that he'd been told by Garneau that Elections Canada has dealt with the issue of "10-percenters, householders and other parliamentary mailings landing during an election writ in the past." In the past, he said, those mailings have had to be included as a reportable expense under the riding's spending cap.

Garneau said in his complaint that if the mailings were illegal campaign contributions, they were funded by taxpayers since they were sent using MPs' free mailing privileges.

Elections Canada rules say that mailouts or householders sent to potential voters during an election campaign constitute advertising. However, the rules on Elections Canada's website also seem to exclude the costs of the mailouts in some circumstances when they are in transit.

Costs would not constitute an election expense, the website says, when "the cost of a householder whose distribution is beyond the control of a member of the House when the writs are issued  …."