OTTAWA – Manitoba Conservative MPs James Bezan and Shelly Glover spoke publicly today for the first time about their dispute with Elections Canada over how the expensed billboards and bus bench advertisements during the 2011 federal election.
Both Bezan and Glover stood in the House of Commons this morning to respond to a point of privilege from the Liberals asking for them to be suspended from the House immediately, and both said that would prejudice their ongoing court fight with Elections Canada.
"I believe I am in compliance with the Canada Elections Act and I did not break the law," said Glover in the House.
Bezan said the matter at hand is an "accounting interpretation" and said to suspend him from the house before a court has sorted it out would be premature.
Any debate by the House of Commons about their suspension could also serve to prejudice his court case, Bezan said.
Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand wrote to House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer May 23 to let him know neither Bezan nor Glover had complied with requests to correct their 2011 federal election returns (and in Bezan’s case, his returns from 2006 and 2008 as well). He noted the Elections Act requires MPs to not be allowed to sit or vote in the House of Commons until such corrections are made.
Bezan and Glover both filed court challenges to fight Elections Canada’s requirements.
The dispute in both cases surrounds how the two MPs claimed the costs of advertisements erected before the campaign but which were still up during the campaign.
In Bezan’s case, it is 19 billboards in his riding he put up mostly in 2005, directing constituents to his local MP offices. Bezan says in 2006 Elections Canada didn’t require him to claim the signs as election advertising but now it is.
"Elections Canada changed their interpretation," he said.
The issue is whether the signs give Bezan an unfair advantage over opponents in an election because they wouldn’t have similar ads to use unless they spent money on them during the campaign.
Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton told Mayrand in letters earlier this year that if Bezan had to claim the signs, he should only have to claim the cost of the kind of signs he would have put up during a campaign.
The permanent billboards are so big and expensive "no reasonable campaign would incur the extraordinary costs of constructing a permanent sign during a writ period," Hamilton wrote.
Mayrand replied that allowing Bezan to claim the cost of much smaller, temporary signs would be akin to allowing him to claim the costs for office rent using the rent charged on an entirely different office.
In Glover’s case the dispute is over her use of ads with her photo and website address on bus benches and sidewalk garbage and recycling boxes. They were put up before the election to promote her as the MP for Saint Bonifce and Hamilton told Mayrand they are not election advertising because they don’t promote or oppose a candidate, their party or leader.
However Glover did affix stickers to the ads during the campaign to say who authorized them.
Mayrand said the ads are clearly advertising for Glover and must be claimed.
Should either Glover or Bezan agree with Elections Canada and claim the costs as required, both would exceed the spending limit allowed for the 2011 campaigns which could trigger charges under the Elections Act with penalties of between three months and five years in jail, and/or fines of between $1,000 to $5,000.
Liberal MP Scott Andrews rose on a point of privilege earlier this week to demand the House be allowed to decide whether Glover and Bezan get to stay on pending the outcome of the dispute, rather than Scheer deciding on his own.
Scheer has yet to rule on that point, and Bezan and Glover were responding to that point of privilege today.
Scheer did rule on another point of privilege asking him to table the letters written to him by Mayrand. He said no, saying there are no precedents for him to do so and that it is not true a letter written to the speaker is a de facto letter to the entire House of Commons.
Glover’s court case is set for June 21 and Bezan’s for Sept. 12.