Conservative Party 'disappointed' charges filed
Published Friday, February 25, 2011 7:10PM EST
New charges laid against the federal Conservative party and four of its officials should not have moved ahead until a key court case was settled, a party spokesperson said Friday.
Elections Canada released a charge sheet Friday that spells out allegations that the Conservative party "willfully" exceeded an $18-million campaign spending limit in the election that saw Prime Minister Stephen Harper lead the Tories to a minority victory in 2006.
Two Tory senators, Doug Finley and Irving Gerstein, and two other Conservative staffers, Michael Donison and Susan Kehoe, are also charged with this same offence under the Canada Elections Act.
Gerstein, a top Tory fundraiser, is also accused of giving false and misleading information to Elections Canada.
The charges were laid by Elections Canada with the approval of the federal director of public prosecutions.
Elections Canada believes that the Tories improperly reported $1.3 million in national campaign advertising as local expenses of 67 Conservative candidates. Using this logic, the elections watchdog alleges that the Conservatives were able to exceed their prescribed spending limit.
The Canada Elections Act charges that the party and its four officers are now facing are separate from a civil case the Tories initiated against Elections Canada over the same financing questions.
In the civil case, Elections Canada was ordered to reimburse two Conservative candidates for their ad expenses. The national elections watchdog appealed that ruling the following month, as did the Conservatives.
Party spokesperson Fred DeLorey said that the civil case should have been completed before charges were laid by Elections Canada.
"We're disappointed that Elections Canada filed these charges after losing in Federal Court, and not waiting for the appeal court's decision," DeLorey said Friday.
DeLorey said the charges were "a total disregard for the decision and the appeal process."
The Canadian Press reports that Elections Canada does not have any control over the timing of the charges and elections commissioner William Corbett referred the matter to the public prosecutor 20 months ago.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said Friday he was shocked by the allegations.
"I just find it shocking that the Conservative party and Stephen Harper would sail so close to the wind on this," Ignatieff said during a speech in Oakville, Ont.
"This is not small potatoes," he added. "And it's not some candidate way out in some forgotten riding. This is the central organizing team of the Conservative Party of Canada accused of serious election violations."