The Harper government rejected opposition calls yesterday to give Elections Canada new tools to detect multiple donations to a political party's riding associations that could cumulatively exceed the legal limit by more than $60,000.
"For God's sake, this loophole has to be plugged," New Democrat MP Pat Martin said. "We can't go into an election campaign with this kind of imbalance. It could be happening all over the place."
The Globe and Mail reported yesterday that Elections Canada cannot track or cross-check donations to riding associations of less than $200. As a result, a donor could send dozens of contributions to riding associations that, put together, widely exceed the legal limit of $1,100 a year.
With 308 ridings across the country, a series of $199.99 cheques to each one would total $61,596.92, and could go undetected.
Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan issued a statement yesterday reminding Canadians that exceeding the $1,100 limit is illegal.
"This is no more a loophole than the fact that someone can break the law by fraudulently misstating their income on their income tax," he said. "In both cases the law is broken and individuals are subject to serious consequences for doing so."
The Liberal Party said it has internal controls in place to prevent a donor from breaking the Elections Act. It said it uses a centralized receipt system that tracks all donations, regardless of their amount or destination.
Still, Liberal officials acknowledge that the loophole was created by their 2003 reform to the Elections Act. Party officials, however, said the likelihood of people abusing it is greater now that the Conservatives have lowered the annual maximum donation from $5,200 to $1,100.
Meanwhile, some of the Conservative MPs gathered for their annual summer retreat in Charlottetown said there were reasons why 60 per cent of them were not included on Elections Canada's roster of people who donated more than $200 to the party last year.
Environment Minister John Baird said he used to donate $1,000 to the party every year in addition to donations to his own election campaigns. But when he was the minister responsible for shepherding the government's centrepiece Accountability Act through Parliament, "I did not do any fundraising personally ... as I didn't want to be singled out for passing the hat one last time under the old rules."
Conservative MP Steven Fletcher said his lack of a donation might have been an oversight. "Also I'm not a wealthy individual," he said.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Rona Ambrose looked surprised when she was told that she did not appear on the databases.
"The SPCA is our first [place]to donate," Ms. Ambrose joked.
Conservative MP Dave Batters said the main reason he did not donate in 2006 was that his wife took two months off from her law practice to help him out on his election campaign.
Almost all Liberal MPs, except Ottawa-area MP David McGuinty and new recruit Garth Turner, are listed by Elections Canada as Liberal donors in 2006. The Liberals were helped by the fact that the entrance fee to last year's Liberal leadership convention in Montreal constituted an official donation to their party.
NDP Leader Jack Layton gave $5,200 to his party last year. The 27 other MPs in his caucus also donated more than $200 to the NDP, according to Elections Canada.
Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe gave $2,500 to his party. Of the remaining 47 Bloc MPs, all gave more than $200 except for Serge Cardin, Roger Gaudet, Raymond Gravel, Yvon Lévesque and Thierry St-Cyr.