The "in-and-out" charges against the Conservative Party and three of its officials are not a reasonable basis for a no-confidence motion against the Conservative government, though they do cast an unfavourable light on an apparently over-ingenious party organization.
The party is not co-extensive with the government in the manner of a Marxist-Leninist regime, although the Conservative party and government are more one than we should like, as illustrated by the wide use in Ottawa of the "Harper government" appellation.
Stephen Harper cannot plausibly be depicted as his party's cash-flow manager, supervising intra-party cheque-writing. He is, however, the Tory leader, and if the buck is to stop, it is just as well that it stops with him.
Mr. Harper should ensure the Conservative Party show good faith by acknowledging its too-clever-by-half mistake, reimbursing the public purse with the amount by which it overspent, and putting the in-and-out controversy to rest six years after the election in question.
The point in dispute between the party and Elections Canada is not really the interpretation of a particular law or regulation. The Canada Elections Act never says, "Thou shalt not let money pass from a national campaign to a local campaign or vice versa - or back and forth." Instead, the crux is the common-sense meaning of what is a local riding campaign and what is a national campaign.
The election law sets separate spending limits for parties and for local candidates. And common sense would suggest that the attachment to a national television advertisement of a "tag line" with a candidate's name does not turn it into a local ad.
Nobody has been accused of fraud. Rather the Conservative party and three party officials have been charged under the Canadian Elections Act with consciously overspending and with incorrectly saying that expenses were properly recorded.
All this is a distraction from the larger issues of whether parties should be subsidized at all, and whether the campaign donation maximum is too low.
The in-and-out affair should, however, be taken seriously. Twisting words out of their natural meaning to evade what is now the law of the land cannot be overlooked or excused.