Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2004

Updated elections fundraising rules are still full of loopholes

Aaron Freeman

Illustration by Raymond BiesingerThe recent federal election was the first road test for Canada’s new political fundraising rules. Unfortunately, the drive was not kind to the Elections Act, demonstrating that serious loopholes in the law must be closed.

Last year, Bill C-24 placed new spending limits on nomination races and new reporting requirements on donations. It also introduced new limits on donations, including a ban on corporate donations to parties, a $1,000 limit on corporate donations to candidates and a $5,000 limit on individuals donating to parties or candidates. But donors are still finding ways to get around the rules.

Re-elected Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish, for example, was offered a cheque for $5,000 from a company in her riding. Knowing this was above the $1,000 limit for businesses, she politely returned the cheque. But almost immediately after she did so, three new $1,000 cheques came in: one from the company that wrote the first cheque, one from the owner of the company and one from another company the owner was involved in. A few weeks later, she got a $2,000 cheque from the owner’s brother. “The first guy would have liked to have given me $5,000, but he couldn’t,” she says.

In the Ottawa Centre race, Liberal Richard Mahoney’s campaign called voters on election day—when campaigning is illegal—leaving an automated message propagating a false rumour that his main opponent, the NDP’s Ed Broadbent, was willing to give up his seat if Jack Layton lost his own election and needed somewhere to run. “The people of Ottawa Centre can elect someone who’s committed for the long term, Richard Mahoney, and prevent Stephen Harper from becoming prime minister,” the message urged.

Mahoney lost by a wide margin, but the incident illustrates how election laws are failing to deal with desperate candidates who pull out the dirty tricks in the dying days of a campaign, confident in the knowledge that an Elections Canada investigation will not be able to stop them until after the election, when the damage is done. Nobody knows when the next election will be, but with any luck, MPs will address ways to prevent these shenanigans before another writ is dropped.

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