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April 18, 2005
Painfully Slow Audits At Elections Canada? Mon Dieu!

The Hill Times reports today that Canadian MPs from all parties have begun to panic as a new election looks increasingly certain in the near future, because the Canadian government has not yet paid MPs for their last contest. Canadians running for Parliament receive public funds for their campaigns, but the audits for last year's elections still have not been completed -- meaning the politicians still have yet to be reimbursed for their expenses:

MPs from all parties say they are worried about their sparse war chests as a possible spring election draws closer, and are also in a panic because they still haven't received their final refunds from Elections Canada for election expenses incurred during the last federal campaign a year ago that hobbled the Liberals to minority status.

Some consider the matter so "urgent" that they have summoned Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley to appear before the House Procedure and House Affairs Committee this Tuesday, April 19, to explain the holdup behind the refund. ...

After the meeting, Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc (Beausjour, N.B.), who also sits on the powerful committee that handles all election matters related to MPs, told The Hill Times that "Elections Canada has been painfully slow" in auditing the campaign expenses of candidates.

"We're going to have this bizarre situation where you may have an election called with some of this stuff not released and available. This would be a rather untenable situation," added Mr. LeBlanc who also serves as his party's deputy House leader.

Under normal circumstances, this would make a great argument for the inefficiency of government bureaucracies and the wisdom of avoiding public financing of political campaigns. After all, the government has a responsibility to safeguard the people's money and should heavily audit the finances. However, the agencies involved should have enough resources to do so efficiently and quickly, especially in the Parliamentary system where elections can occur quickly and without much warning.

These, however, are not normal circumstances. Thanks to the ruling party's treatment of government money over the past ten years, the lines between government funds and campaign funds have not just been made fuzzy but erased altogether. In a system where Sponsorship Program cash paid ad agencies to hire Liberal Party activists to do nothing but campaign work, I imagine the audit process at Elections Canada has transformed into a much more complicated process than anything they might have imagined before the scandal broke open. Many of the records might have to be reviewed by the Gomery Inquiry (or prosecutors, in some cases) either before or in conjunction with EC's audits.

In the meantime, Canadian politicians may have to make do without rembursements for the next election cycle, which could come as soon as mid-June. If that timing makes for tough financial planning, at least Canadians can be assured that all parties will have the same handicap this time around.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 18, 2005 7:10 AM

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