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Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, seen here on Oct. 9, 2019, says that Elections Canada issued a ruling in support of the party’s advertising practices, but the elections watchdog is contradicting that claim.

Carlos Osorio/Reuters

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says that Elections Canada issued a ruling in support of the party’s advertising practices, but the elections watchdog is contradicting that claim.

The agency said it simply provided guidance to the Conservatives in an e-mail this week, including a suggestion that the party should consider how the public might perceive its advertising decisions.

The Conservative Leader made the comment Wednesday as he defended the fact that his party and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers have both awarded campaign advertising contracts to an ad firm co-founded by Mr. Scheer’s campaign manager, Hamish Marshall.

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Changes to the Canada Elections Act that took effect in June state that it is against the law for a political party to collude with a registered third party in areas such as advertising. The fact that both CAPP and the Conservative Party are using the same advertising firm during this campaign is raising questions as to whether those rules are being followed. The ad company says its work for the two clients is kept separate and CAPP said it complies with Canada’s elections laws.

The contracts were first reported Wednesday by The Globe and Mail. The Globe previously reported in April that Mr. Scheer, Mr. Marshall and CAPP president Tim McMillan all spoke at a private gathering in Alberta to discuss strategies for defeating Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government. At the event, Mr. Marshall spoke on a panel about “rallying the base” by using like-minded interest groups that operate independently of the party.

The oil-lobby group is registered as a third party for the campaign. In a report to Elections Canada, the group recently disclosed that it has made four payments totalling $15,404 to One Persuasion Inc. – also known as One Persuades – an ad firm that Mr. Marshall co-founded in 2018 along with other individuals connected to the federal Conservative Party. The lobby group has spent $87,676 on political activities so far.

When asked whether his party’s advertising work conflicts with the new ban on collusion, Mr. Scheer said: “Quite the contrary, we actually have a ruling, a decision by Elections Canada that states that it’s allowable for vendors to have contracts with two different advertisers.”

Mr. Scheer also rejected a reporter’s question about whether the contracts to One Persuades could be viewed as a conflict of interest for Mr. Marshall.

“Not at all. He’s taken a leave of absence,” said Mr. Scheer. The Conservative Party and One Persuades did not respond to questions about whether Mr. Marshall maintains an ownership stake in the ad company during his temporary leave of absence, which began in June.

After Mr. Scheer’s remarks Wednesday, Elections Canada spokesperson Natasha Gauthier said the agency responded to a Conservative Party e-mail on the topic Tuesday afternoon. That would have been after The Globe asked the Conservative Party to comment on the ad contracts.

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“Please note that this is not any kind of official ruling or decision,” wrote Ms Gauthier in an e-mail to The Globe. “It’s quite common for political entities to ask our political financing and legal experts for guidance and advice on interpreting and applying the regulations, especially during an election. This is what the e-mail is: guidance.”

The Conservative Party provided The Globe with a copy of the e-mail it received from Elections Canada.

The Tuesday e-mail to the Conservatives was written by Josée Villeneuve, Elections Canada’s senior director of political financing. The e-mail said it is not unusual for political entities to do business with the same suppliers. It also said the law prohibits a third party and a political party from colluding – including by sharing information – in a way that influences the third party’s political activities.

“The fact that a third party and a party used the same advertising firm would not on its own constitute collusion. Every situation must be examined on a case-by-case basis in determining whether it could constitute a case of prohibited collusion," Ms. Villeneuve wrote. "As a best practice, we recommend that parties consider how they or the general public would perceive a similar situation involving another political party.”

Duff Conacher of the advocacy group Democracy Watch said he will be filing a complaint with the Commissioner of Canada Elections requesting an investigation into whether CAPP and the Conservative Party are in violation of the collusion rules.

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