The byelection in Cartwright-L’anse au Clair hasn’t been formally called yet, but the NDP is already saying that the Liberals may be violating election financing laws.
Liberal candidate Lisa Dempster was in St. John’s Wednesday, and she was going to be at a fundraiser in the evening to help pay for her campaign expenses. Dempster told The Telegram that everything is above board, but NDP president Kathleen Connors says the fundraiser is the sort of thing New Democrats were warned about in 2011.
Longtime Liberal MHA Yvonne Jones resigned her seat on April 8. Premier Kathy Dunderdale has not yet called a byelection to fill the seat.
According to Bruce Chaulk, director of elections finance with Elections Newfoundland and Labrador, a candidate can’t start fundraising until the writ is issued and an election is formally called.
“The only time you can become a candidate is actually after you’ve filed your nomination papers with us. Only a candidate or a registered party can fundraise,” Chaulk said. “You can’t be a candidate until you’ve filed your nomination papers. You can’t file your nomination papers until the writ is issued.”
The Liberal Party website makes it clear that Wednesday night’s fundraiser is for Dempster’s election campaign.
“Tickets are $125 or $100 if you are a member of the Party Patrons,” a posting on the Liberal Party website says. “Support Lisa for the upcoming by-election in Cartwright–L’Anse au Clair.”
Where the whole thing gets tangly is that political parties can hold fundraisers any time they want. Moreover, after the writ is issued, the party can give money to the candidate for the campaign.
Dempster told The Telegram that’s exactly what she’s doing.
“I’m not having a fundraiser,” she said. “There’s a reception going ahead for the Liberal Party that I am going to. But we know the details. I have got the sharpest chief financial officer in the province, and he is actually in town as well.”
Dempster said she hadn’t seen the wording of the Liberals’ event notice, so she couldn’t comment on that. But she said she knows the rules, and with federal Conservative Peter Penashue embroiled in an election financing scandal, everyone in Labrador is making sure they’re all squeaky clean.
“Penashue done it for us. We don’t want to go down that same road,” she said.
Connors said the NDP has been down this road before, and the party has been specifically warned by Elections Newfoundland and Labrador that a political party fundraising for a specific candidate’s campaign is against the rules.
Connors said if the Elections Act is being interpreted differently now, that’s fine, so long as everyone is playing by the same rules.
“We’ve talked about fundraising for the byelection in Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair,” she said. “If it’s being allowed, and it would appear that it’s OK, then we’re certainly quite prepared to begin our fundraising.”
Chaulk said he can’t know for sure if Dempster is breaking the rules until he looks into the situation.
“I’d have to look at it and figure out whether it is or isn’t in violation of the act,” he said. “I wouldn’t know for sure until I looked at it.”