As far as excuses go, they are not even good ones. The dog ate our copy of the “Political Financing Handbook for Candidates and Official Agents” (http://www.elec
tions.ca/pol/can/man/ec20155/pdf/ec20155_e.pdf) would have been as plausible as the blame game and ignorance defence coming from
former Conservative MP Peter Penashue and his former official agent, Reg Bowers.
Mr. Penashue, who accepted illegal and ineligible campaign donations during the last federal election, violating multiple election laws in the process, is blaming Mr. Bowers for everything. Mr. Bowers was rewarded for his efforts in
Mr. Penashue’s campaign with a
political patronage appointment on the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. He has since resigned his position.
In addition to throwing Mr. Bowers under the bus, it was revealed last week that Mr. Penashue paid back some $45,000 in illegal contributions to the government (apparently most of the cash came courtesy of the federal Conservative party). He then promptly resigned and claimed he had no knowledge of the illegal campaign problems.
He now expects the people of Labrador to re-elect him. The Conservative Party of Canada and Prime Minister Stephen Harper expect the same, having declared him their candidate in a soon-to-be-called byelection.
Well, the guy has gall if nothing else.
Seriously, a stunning 28 ineligible or illegal contributions and we are supposed to buy that these were, all 28 of them, unintentional, honest mistakes from a rookie financial official agent (whose bio says he is a businessman who did extensive work for the Canadian Institute for Chartered Accountants).
We are also supposed to buy that Mr. Penashue, also a former businessman, just signed off on the documents and that neither bothered to read the rules for the election donations and contributions. Yep, that’s their story.
During elections, Elections Canada bombards these rookie official agents (volunteers) with the dos and don’ts of running an election campaign. In addition, the Elections Canada website has an easy to find and easy to read guide for candidates and official agents.
And since when is ignorance of the law an excuse? Unemployed workers can’t use this as an excuse when they make a mistake on their EI claims. They are expected to know the complicated program rules and to follow them or have their benefits cut. Mr. Penashue has faced no similar penalty.
The people of Labrador are being asked to ignore the fact that laws were broken.
They are being asked to ignore the fact that their MP is guilty of breaking those laws. They are being asked to ignore, at worst, a deliberate attempt to defy the rules or, at best, remarkable ineptitude.
How remarkable? Penashue’s campaign took in over $27,000 in illegal donations, including $5,500 from Pennecon Ltd.
Corporate donations are banned under the law.
This was on top of the ineligible and illegal $18,700 in-kind contribution from Provincial Airlines.
Page 13 of the handbook for federal candidates and official agents says: only individuals who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents can make a contribution to
a candidate. Corporations, trade unions, associations and groups cannot make contributions.
Chapter 2 of the handbook continues to explain what might be considered a gift or donation from a supporter, including something that a candidate may receive below fair market value or at a price not available to others. The flights from Provincial Airlines may have qualified as a gift or contribution, but when included, as they must be, they pushed Mr. Penashue way over his spending limit.
Before resigning his Labrador seat, Mr. Penashue repaid over $45,000 to the government to cover off the illegal contributions, including over $28,000 late last fall and a further $18,700 on March 4 in relation to the ineligible, in-kind donation from the airline.
This second repayment came only after Mr. Penashue was warned by chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand that a previous amended election expense claim — prepared by a new official agent appointed by the Conservative party — was still not up to scratch.
In a February letter, Mr. Mayrand noted that if another amended and corrected campaign expense claim was not filed on time with his office, then Mr. Penashue would not be able to sit as an MP or to vote in the House of Commons.
The second amended expense claim was filed just days before he resigned.
This is very serious business.
This is not a case of an oversight or even two. It is not an accounting error by two businessmen who should have known better.
This is a case of no one caring what the rules were as long as their candidate won.
It is a shameful example of a total disregard for the country’s election rules; rules that are meant (albeit sometimes poorly) to level the playing field among electoral candidates.
Mr. Penashue, it is said, has been prevented by his boss from speaking in the House of Commons on his own behalf when questioned by opposition MPs.
During media interviews Mr. Penashue has stuck to prepared message points even when those prepared answers were unsuitable for the questions being asked.
The whole affair has been, in a word, embarrassing.
It has also exposed the dark side or underbelly of electoral politics and the Harper Conservative party’s mantra that winning at any cost is acceptable.
Cue robocalls and other broken election rules.
His friends, according to the latest blog by CBC journalist David Cochrane, say Mr. Penashue wanted to speak for himself, but had been muzzled.
And Mr. Penashue’s response to that muzzling? He has decided to run again for the people who muzzled him.
It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.
Lana Payne is president of the
Newfoundland and Labrador Federation
of Labour. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her column returns April 6.