The non-partisan office that administers provincial elections in British Columbia is looking into political flyers sent out by two federal NDP MPs during the recent provincial election, which could have run afoul of election law.
Elections BC has confirmed it is reviewing whether federal B.C. New Democrats Nathan Cullen and Sheila Malcolmson engaged in alleged unregistered "election advertising" during the provincial campaign.
Both MPs vehemently deny wrongdoing and say it was fully within their rights to send the flyers.
The news comes as Liberal Premier Christy Clark prepares to face defeat in the legislature after her majority government was reduced to 43 seats in the May 9 election. The NDP and the Greens, with a combined 44 seats, have reached a deal to topple the Liberals at the first opportunity – setting the stage for BC NDP Leader John Horgan's rise to power.
Elections BC spokesman Andrew Watson said the office is reviewing the flyers and "following up with those involved to determine if further action is necessary."
"We have contacted these MPs and are awaiting information from them. We are working to determine if election advertising was conducted," Mr. Watson wrote in an e-mail.
"It is an offence to conduct election advertising during the campaign period without being registered," he added.
Mr. Watson said if election advertising was conducted, the sponsors will be required to register with Elections BC and file a financial disclosure report by August 8.
Under the province's Election Act, it is illegal to indirectly sponsor election advertising. An individual or organization that commits an election advertising offence could be fined up to $10,000 or face one year in jail, or both.
A spokesman for the BC Liberals confirmed the party brought the flyers to the attention of Elections BC, but declined to comment while the matter is being reviewed.
Marie-Sophie Gauthier, legal counsel for the House of Commons, said in two separate letters to the lawyer for Elections BC and the province's chief electoral officer that there is "no legal basis" for either complaint against Mr. Cullen and Ms. Malcolmson, arguing that the flyers raised federal issues.
"I respectfully submit that the legislature of B.C. does not have the legislative competence to take away, alter or control how a federal Member of Parliament carries out his or her parliamentary functions," she writes.
The flyers in question do not mention the provincial election or Mr. Horgan.
In his flyer, Mr. Cullen, who represents the northern B.C. riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley, focuses on full-time jobs and household debt. The flyer prominently features the line "It's time to make life more affordable," which is similar to one of Mr. Horgan's policy headlines, "Making your life more affordable."
Ms. Malcolmson's flyer focuses on the deadly opioid crisis that has gripped the province. In it, the Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP references the "federal and provincial Liberal failures to respond" to the public health emergency.
The B.C. Elections Act describes election advertising as a message transmitted to the public during the campaign period that promotes or opposes "directly or indirectly" a registered political party or candidate, including taking a position on an issue with which a party or candidate is associated.
Ms. Gauthier said Mr. Cullen and Ms. Malcolmson sent their flyer requests to the House of Commons' printing and mailing services on March 31 and April 6, respectively, before the provincial campaign period started. She said the flyers may have been distributed to constituents during the B.C. election period, but it would not have been possible to intercept mail from Canada Post.
In an interview, Mr. Cullen said the flyer was created in response to the March federal budget and had nothing to do with Mr. Horgan's campaign.
"It's ridiculous to suggest that I can't talk to my constituents about the federal budget," he said.
"The language that I used is language that we've used as New Democrats, federally, for 20 years. I didn't look, and I can't anticipate, what someone's slogan might be."
Ms. Malcolmson told The Globe and Mail she sent the flyer because Nanaimo has the highest rate of opioid deaths in B.C., and the federal Liberals had introduced a bill to combat it.
"There are always going to be areas where there are provincial matters that tie into federal leadership and this is exactly the kind of thing that an MP should be standing up for," she said.
The MPs' flyers – known as "10 per centers"– are printed with Commons resources and postage is paid out of the member's office budget.
The flyers cannot be distributed to more than 10 per cent of households in the riding and cannot be sent to other MPs' constituencies.
The multiparty Board of Internal Economy, which polices House of Commons spending, sets restrictions on the mailings, which can't be used for federal, provincial or municipal election campaign material.
Neither Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Conservative whip Gord Brown nor NDP MP Murray Rankin, who sit on the board, would comment on the flyers because they have not been formally brought to the board's attention.
But Mr. LeBlanc said similar rules for federal elections should apply provincially.
"We have set rules around mailings with respect to federal elections or by-elections, and I would assume those kind of rules should properly apply to other electoral contexts, but I have no information with respect to these particular circumstances," he told The Globe.