The chief electoral officer has told the Speaker of the House of Commons that two Manitoba Conservative MPs should be suspended because of questioned election expenses.
The two, Shelly Glover and James Bezan, say they will go to court over what they call erroneous interpretations by Elections Canada.
John Enright, spokesman for the elections watchdog, says auditors found problems with returns from both MPs’ returns and requested changes. The campaigns refused to make the changes.
“In these cases, the chief electoral officer wrote to the Speaker of the House to inform the House of the situation so that appropriate action could be taken,” he said. “That’s where we are.”
Enright says the Elections Act is clear: “An elected candidate, a sitting MP, who fails to make a correction requested by the CEO shall not continue to sit or vote as a member until the correction is made.”
The next step is up to Speaker Andrew Scheer, Enright said.
“The House is sovereign. The House needs to decide. We’ve informed them this is what the legislation said.”
Bezan said in a statement that Elections Canada has unfairly changed the rules.
“Elections Canada approved my campaign returns for the 2006 and 2008 elections but have now changed their interpretation, which is not consistent with the Act’s provisions,” he said.
“Elections Canada is not being fair or reasonable in their application of the Act.
“My campaign has complied with the Elections Canada Act. This is an accounting dispute between the campaign and Elections Canada.”
Glover echoed that complaint: “My campaign in 2011 complied fully with the Elections Act. Elections Canada has ordered that I claim expenses that my campaign did not incur, which is not consistent with the Act’s provisions.”
Bezan and Glover both said they will fight the elections watchdog in court.
Pierre Poilievre, parliamentary secretary to the minister of transport, who often parries question period attacks on the Harper government, defended Glover and Bezan.
“These members acted in good faith,” he said in the Commons. “Due to legitimate differences of opinion, Elections Canada’s interpretation of the rules is now before the courts. That is the members’ right to pursue.”
Enright said Elections Canada auditors work with campaigns to reconcile their reports.
“There’s often back and forth between that auditor and the campaign to make things right,” he said.
“More often than not, it’s inadvertent errors, wrong column, inverted numbers, they fix them, they go back and forth.
“If, after that review, the auditor finds that there are errors in the return there’s a request made to the candidate’s agent to file a corrected return.”
If the campaign doesn’t correct the report, the chief electoral officer can make an official request for a correction. If that is refused, the chief has no choice but to notify the Commons.
Enright says candidates can go to court to ask to be excused from complying with a request for a correction.
But that doesn’t change the situation about suspension, he added.
“Irrespective if they are before the courts, they didn’t satisfy the original request.”
Enright said he hasn’t done any formal research, but can’t remember a similar case.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I don’t recall this having come up.”
Election expense troubles have already cost Prime Minister Stephen Harper a cabinet minister.
Peter Penashue was minister of intergovernmental affairs when he was hit by allegations of campaign financing irregularities. His campaign accepted thousands of dollars in ineligible contributions.
Penashue announced in March he would resign and seek vindication in a byelection. He lost to Liberal Yvonne Jones in the vote last month.