The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Commons officials, not political rivals, said NDP broke mail rules

  • Print
House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer is pictured April 22, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Enlarge Image

House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer is pictured April 22, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - New Democrats are blaming a "kangaroo court" of political rivals for ruling against a scheme approved by Elections Canada: their use of parliamentary resources to mail almost 2 million partisan missives around the country.

But there are holes in both the NDP's lines of defence.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press suggest it was neutral House of Commons administrative officials who determined the NDP mailings violated the rules for using MPs' Commons envelopes and free postal privileges.

And it appears Elections Canada may now be investigating some of the mailings that arrived in four ridings in the midst of byelections — although the independent agency initially said the missives did not count as campaign expenses because they were mailed before the byelections were officially called.

An "information note" compiled by the House of Commons administration suggests the Conservatives and Liberals acted on the advice of neutral officials in concluding the NDP must repay parliamentary resources used for at least some of the mailings.

"Together these documents demonstrate an activity orchestrated on behalf of a political party for which House resources ... were used," says the analysis of the NDP mailings prepared for the secretive, multi-party board of internal economy, which oversees Commons spending.

"In short, it would appear that the mailings were not messages from the individual members as members, but rather were prepared by and for the benefit of the NDP as a political party and to advance electoral purposes."

Administrative officials came to that conclusion after reviewing samples of 1.8 million pieces of mail sent by 23 New Democrat MPs — including NDP Leader Tom Mulcair — into 26 ridings currently held by other parties. They all used Commons envelopes and free parliamentary mailing privileges, known as franking.

The board has asked the Commons administration to take a closer look at other NDP mailouts to determine whether they also were against the rules.

In early April, Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer, who chairs the board, asked Elections Canada to take another look at the mailings that arrived in the four ridings during byelections late last year.

Liberal MP Marc Garneau, who personally lodged a complaint about the NDP mailings, said it appears Elections Canada is now taking the matter more seriously than it did when it initially dismissed the matter in March.

He said he was questioned on April 29 by two investigators from the commissioner of elections, including Ron Lamothe, the lead investigator who nailed the Conservative party for violating election spending rules through the so-called in-and-out scheme.

"My sense of that was that they were definitely going to follow it up," Garneau said in an interview.

The commissioner of elections refuses to confirm or deny if an investigation has been launched.

But in a May 5 letter to Scheer, chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand also struck a more serious tone, describing "complex matters that warrant careful consideration as they can have very significant repercussions on the activities carried out by Members of Parliament."

Mayrand added that it's important for Elections Canada officials to continue collaborating with the office of the Commons law clerk to provide "clear guidance" to MPs, "especially as we approach the next general election."

Nevertheless, New Democrats insisted Tuesday that they broke no rules and are the victims of a partisan gang-up. Indeed, they maintained they checked with both the Speaker and House administrators before they embarked on the mass mailings.

Scheer has denied he approved any specific set of mailings. Over the objections of the NDP, a Commons committee voted Tuesday to call the clerk of the Commons, Audrey O'Brien, to testify on the matter.

NDP House leader Peter Julian said the Conservatives and Liberals have transformed the once consensual board of internal economy into a "kangaroo court."

"Ironically, this transformation is the ultimate misuse of parliamentary resources being misused for partisan purposes."

The NDP released numerous examples of mailings sent out by Conservative and Liberal MPs, some of which are more blatantly partisan than the missives New Democrats have sent.

One, from Conservative whip John Duncan, compares the "strong economic leadership" of Prime Minister Stephen Harper against the "reckless spending and higher taxes" of Mulcair.

New Democrat MP Pat Martin said 10 Conservative MPs, including four cabinet ministers, have bombarded his Winnipeg riding with "hyper-partisan" mailings. The board of internal economy found nothing wrong with those mailings but now wants the NDP to cease sending out its own.

"The Conservatives want the right to be able to carpet bomb my riding with propaganda but they want a unilateral disarmament (by the NDP)," Martin said.

Duncan, a member of the board, insisted the board's findings are "very fair" and said the NDP "should be accepting responsibility instead of impugning everybody else, including the Speaker."

If the NDP has to pay for the mailings, it could run into the millions of dollars. Duncan refused to speculate on the final bill, but he said there are ways to recoup the money if the NDP refuses to pay.

Follow @jmbryden on Twitter

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Maurice Leggett on his three interceptions vs. Alouettes

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A young goose   reaches for long strands of grass Friday night near McGillvary Blvd-See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge- Day 19 - May 23, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A female Mallard duck leads a group of duckings on a morning swim through the reflections in the Assiniboine River at The Forks Monday.     (WAYNE GLOWACKI/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) Winnipeg Free Press  June 18 2012

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Have you decided which mayoral candidate will get your vote?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google