OTTAWA -- Former Manitoba Conservative MP Inky Mark said his party was wrong to claim $1.3 million in national advertising expenses paid for by its local candidates in the 2006 election.

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OTTAWA -- Former Manitoba Conservative MP Inky Mark said his party was wrong to claim $1.3 million in national advertising expenses paid for by its local candidates in the 2006 election.

Mark spoke out on the so-called in-and-out scandal nearly six months after he left the party after 13 years as the MP for Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette.

Former Tory MP Inky Mark said the in-and-out scheme seemed wrong.

BRUCE BUMSTEAD / BRANDON SUN ARCHIVES

Former Tory MP Inky Mark said the in-and-out scheme seemed wrong.

Mark, who has been on the outs with his own party for years, told the Free Press he was asked to participate in the advertising money exchange but he refused.

"It smelled," he said.

He said his campaign manager was approached by a federal party official and asked to accept a transfer of money from the federal campaign and then immediately transfer the money back to the central party.

"I asked what was the point," he said. "It just didn't make any sense."

Mark said he believes they asked him to accept about $8,000.

"From my point of view, if I took the money and pretended I spent it and then made a claim for it with Elections Canada, that's wrong," he said.

The official agent for Helena Guergis, the Ontario MP and ousted Conservative cabinet minister, also said last week Guergis's campaign refused the money transfer.

Sixty-six Tory candidates agreed to participate in the program.

Two of them -- Helen Sterzer, who ran unsuccessfully in Winnipeg Centre and Gareth McDonald, who ran unsuccessfully in Winnipeg North ------ were from Manitoba, an Elections Canada affidavit said.

Manitoba candidates, including Mark, may have been more wary of the request because of the election-financing charges from a similar plan in Manitoba. In the 1999 provincial election, the Manitoba Tories had all 57 candidates assume $7,500 in central campaign advertising expenses. Four candidates and official agents, including Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, were charged with overspending when the $7,500 put them over their official spending limit.

Toews pleaded guilty in 2005 and was fined $500.

On Friday, Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin said he's glad some Conservatives quickly sensed the scheme didn't meet the smell test.

He said many of those who agreed to participate likely felt they had no choice under pressure from party brass.

Martin said he thinks voters will grow tired of hearing about another Tory scheme. University of Manitoba politics Prof. Jared Wesley, however, says the scandal is far too complicated for most Canadians to care about.

"For it to resonate with the average Canadian would-be voter, it's got to fit into a 10-second sound bite," he said. "I have trouble explaining it in half an hour in a poli-sci class."

He added that anybody who has taken the time to understand if this was illegal is not likely not a Conservative voter in the first place. "Canadians that would get engaged against the government because of this are already against the government," he said.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca