The byelection hasn’t officially been called, but Peter Penashue is already off and running with big ads in local media, and a splashy website ready to attack his opponents and accept political donations.
The wheels were already in motion when Penashue announced Thursday he’d be resigning his seat and running for re-election. He said he wanted to run in a byelection to clear the air around overspending accusations and alleged illegal election donations during the 2011 general election.
On Monday, a full-page colour ad for Penashue appeared in The Labradorian — the Happy Valley-Goose Bay weekly newspaper — and a half page ad appeared in The Aurora in Labrador City.
The ads use the slogan “Delivering for Labrador” and list federal initiatives that Penashue has
been involved with since he was elected two years ago.
There’s also a campaign website — deliveringforlabrador.ca — which features a bio of Penashue and his list of accomplishments.
The Telegram requested to speak with Penashue. A spokesman said he was unavailable to do an interview, but provided an e-mailed statement.
“Peter Penashue is doing the right thing in being accountable to the voters who elected him,” campaign spokesman Cory Hann said.
“As far as a message, he has represented and delivered for the people of Labrador in many areas and has been a strong voice in government for Labradorians. Not the least of which were securing federal support for the development of Muskrat Falls, voting to scrap the (long gun registry), and delivering funding to pave the Trans-Labrador Highway.”
In the last campaign, Penashue allegedly spent thousands of dollars above the campaign spending limit, but for at least the next few days, he won’t have that problem.
Elections Canada rules only cover what happens after the writ for the election is issued, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper can only start that process 11 days after somebody resigns.
Harper can call the election any time between 11 days after the resignation, and six months from now. Once the election is called, the campaign period must be at least 36 days.
At the earliest, the byelection will take some time in May.
In the meantime, Penashue can spend an unlimited amount on the advertising in Labrador, including the big ads in local newspapers.
It is unclear where exactly the money is coming from for the website and the newspaper ads, but it’s all emblazoned with the Conservative Party of Canada logo.
The Telegram requested a comment from the Conservative Party, but did not hear back by press time.
NDP intergovernmental affairs critic Robert Chisholm raised the issue during question period in the House of Commons Monday.
Chisholm said that Elections Canada is still investigating Penashue, and if it lays charges for the alleged illegal campaign contributions and overspending.
If he’s found guilty, he could be barred from running for five years.
“He’s already running in the byelection, and yet elections Canada hasn’t finished their investigation yet,” Chisholm said.
“It’s incredible, frankly, that this is allowed to continue in this way without clearing the air and allowing Elections Canada to finish their investigation.”
In total, Penashue’s campaign accepted 28 separate illegal donations.
Elections Canada documents show that almost $48,000 in improper donations have since been repaid to the federal receiver general.
When he resigned, Penashue issued a formal statement blaming inaccuracies in his Elections Canada return, and the illegal contributions and overspending on “an inexperienced volunteer” working as his official agent.
“Although I was unaware of the inaccuracies in the return, I believe I must be accountable to the people who elected me and therefore I am stepping down as the Member of Parliament for Labrador and will seek re-election through a byelection,” Penashue said. “I will also be stepping down as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada.”
The same statement now also appears prominently on his campaign website, which was set up three days before he resigned. The statement appears under a photo of Penashue and a big red “Donate Now” button.
— With files from the Canadian Press