On June 11, the CBC reported that the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy has requested that New Democrat Members of Parliament pay back $1.17 million for ineligible mass mailouts, which the board stated were a partisan use of parliamentary resources.
The NDP has committed to challenging the decision in court.
At issue: 23 federal NDP MPs used free parliamentary mailing privileges to sent almost two million pieces of mail last year to several ridings, including some facing imminent byelections.
The NDP adds its name to the list of all four of our major federal political parties who have misused taxpayers’ dollars for partisan purposes over the years.
The federal Liberals had the sponsorship scandal in which the sponsorship program created by the Chretien government to promote awareness about federal government investment in Quebec following the 1995 sovereignty referendum was revealed to have misused and misdirected public funds intended for government advertising in Quebec.
The affair involved sponsorship program money being awarded to ad firms in return for little or no work. These firms maintained Liberal organizers or fundraisers on their payrolls or donated back part of the money to the Liberal party. Paul Coffin, Jean Brault, Jean Lafleur and Charles Guité were convicted in the affair.
During the 2006 federal election the Conservative party off-loaded advertising costs onto its candidates as the federal party approached its spending limit.
The party used a series of wire transfers to move money into and then out of the local campaigns.
The ensuing scandal over whether or not the Conservative party violated its spending limit became known as the “In and Out” scandal.
On March 6, 2012, the Conservative Party of Canada and its fundraising arm pleaded guilty — as part of a plea deal — to exceeding election spending limits and submitting fraudulent election records, and agreed to repay taxpayers $230,198 that they were improperly reimbursed as a result of the transfers.
In January 2012, Gilles Duceppe was accused of having used funds designated for his parliamentary office to pay the Bloc Québécois’ general manager over a seven-year period beginning in 2004 while Duceppe was leader of the Bloc Quebecois which is devoted to Quebec sovereignty. In November 2012, the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy found that Duceppe misused funds.
However, the board could not take disciplinary action, as the money was spent before bylaws were changed to close the loophole.
In 2004, the then-Liberal government introduced the per-vote subsidy in which federal political parties were given $2 of taxpayer money for each vote they received.
The subsidies were designed to offset a 2003 law banning campaign contributions from corporations. Prime Minister Harper in the 2011 budget eliminated the per-vote subsidy with its complete phasing out by 2015.
A 2006 article in The Ottawa Citizen reported that at the time 95 per cent of the funding for the Quebec separatist Bloc Québécois was coming from the per-vote subsidy (The Ottawa Citizen, Aug. 24, 2006).
If citizens want to donate to political parties they can do so on their own initiative with the tax credits already provided. The tax credits themselves being another form of public subsidy.
A third form of public funding for federal political parties is the election expenses reimbursement which subsidizes 50 per cent of the national campaign expenses of any party that obtains at least 2 per cent of the vote, or at least five per cent in the ridings in which they run candidates. In addition to this, the parties’ riding associations are also reimbursed 60 per cent of all expenses incurred by their candidates in each riding where they obtained at least 10 per cent of the vote.
While there is a clear difference between improperly claiming money and utilizing legitimate public subsidies, they both raise questions about how our tax dollars are used in the political process.
Our politicians continue to find interesting ways to try to blur the line between parliamentary and partisan business.
I call on all Canadians to hold our politicians accountable for the administration of our tax dollars and to ensure they are properly acting as prudent managers of the public purse.