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This article was published 25/2/2011 (3525 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- The Conservative party and four top officials have been charged with "wilfully" exceeding spending limits in the 2006 federal election that swept Stephen Harper to power on an anti-corruption, law-and-order platform.
The governing Conservatives played down the unprecedented charges as an unsurprising administrative matter, but the legal escalation of the long-simmering dispute with Elections Canada introduces a new dynamic into spring election preparations.
Elections Canada laid the charges, which variously carry sentences of up to a year in prison and fines up to $25,000, after getting the go-ahead from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, which has been reviewing the case for 20 months.
A charge sheet released Friday by the Commissioner of Canada Elections cites Harper's campaign director, Doug Finley, and the party's fundraising chief, Irving Gerstein, along with top party officials Mike Donison and Susan Kehoe. They are to appear in Ontario Provincial Court on March 18.
The charges against a group of central party officials is a first since political parties fell under the Canada Elections Act in 1970, said political scientist Heather MacIvor of Ontario's University of Windsor.
The elections watchdog maintains that under the so-called in-and-out scheme, $1.3 million in national campaign advertising was improperly reported by the Tories under the local expenses of 67 Conservative candidates. The agency says the scheme allowed the party to exceed its spending limit and the candidates to claim rebates on expenses they did not incur.
Harper, speaking Friday in Val D'Or, Que., said the issue is about differing interpretations of the rules.
"Our position has been very clear," said Harper. "We respected the rules that were in place at the time. We've been repeatedly in court about this. The courts, to this point, have ruled in our favour."
A Conservative spokesman also referred to the continuing civil suit against Elections Canada launched by the party as a counterpunch to the in-and-out investigation.
"We're disappointed that Elections Canada filed these charges after losing in Federal Court, and not waiting for the Appeal Court's decision," said Fred DeLorey.
-- The Canadian Press
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